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Let that then be our corvette. She should be built of iron, to give rigidity and endurance to the structure. She should be constructed with so many compartments that it would hardly be possible to sink her, and of iron, so that it would be impossible to set her on fire. She should be propelled by twin screws, because that system divides the risk of the vessel being disabled by damage to one engine ; because it affords great facility for steering and turning, and because it enables the shipbuilder to build of a lighter draught than with a single propeller. She should be sheathed with wood and coppered, for without this no ship can successfully keep the sea ; and the solution of this problem can be satisfactorily given. The vital parts of the ship should be guarded with thick iron. The magazine, the boilers, the steering apparatus, the water-line, the gun's crew, should be protected, if possible, with armour plates; protecting all if the ship will carry the weight, but completely protecting each of the essential parts so specified, in the order in which they are given, and omitting the protection in those last mentioned, if the weight when applied to them should be found to deprive the ship of her more necessary qualities. A vessel so built and fitted, and armed with two 300-pounders on a turn-table, and with a crew of 150 men, would be able to go anywhere and do anything. She would be able to carry fuel for a fortnight, provisions for three months, and to berth her crew in health and comfort. It may be asked, then, what need we have for any other class of vessel. Undoubtedly we should not require many of a larger kind; but a naval war, conducted at a distance from home, requires a good base of operations; and that will best be secured by ships sufficiently large to contain and protect fuel, provisions, stores, and ammunition for the service in hand. These, also, should be built for speed, armed more heavily, and with a greater number of turn-tables, more completely protected, but not certainly exceeding 4000 tons. These would take the place of our line-of-battle ships. Intermediately between these two classes should be a class with similar qualifications, in proportion to its size, which should be about 2500 tons. Ships of this class would be ready for distant voyages singly, and would be the frigate of the future.
If this ideal of what our fleet should be is correct, the state of the Navy, after fifty-eight millions of Whig expenditure, cannot be considered very satisfactory. In the Channel our iron-clad fleet is, with few exceptions, reported to be not very seaworthy.
We have only four ships with turn-tables, and not one of them is a sea-going ship. In the Mediterranean there are only three iron-clads, and the two admirals there hoist their flags in wooden
screw line-of-battle ships, with which it would be madness to meet the smallest iron-clad of Italy or France.
Of the twenty-four wooden ships under Sir James Hope's orders, on the coast of North America, none are iron-plated, and it is said that no gun is on board any of them capable of making any impression upon an iron-clad ship.
The other stations are similarly unprepared, and the farce of a squadron of seventeen ships is maintained on the West Coast of Africa for the suppression of the slave-trade, which the slavers laugh to scorn-a squadron, of which about fifteen ships are gunboats or vessels, built too late for the Russian war, not one of which can steam nine knots, though their duty is to catch steamers notoriously the swiftest on the ocean.
But it may be supposed, if the Admiralty have been neglecting our ships and our guns, they at least have been prosecuting vigorously the completion of our docks and arsenals. Let us take a cursory glance at their proceedings in this direction. The public judgment has for years decided that our docks required considerable extension. The increased size of our ships, the screw propeller, the valves, which in steam-ships are below the water-line, had made this extension desirable years ago; but when it was decided to build ships of iron, and to send them to sea uncoppered, the necessity for frequent docking seemed almost to have convinced the Admiralty. When the Admiralty is nearly persuaded, it always appoints a Committee, in hopes to postpone for a little while longer the dreadful day when it may be obliged to take a decision. A Committee reported on the necessary extension of Chatham-yard some years ago, but Portsmouth and Plymouth were carefully excluded from its purview. At last a Committee of the House of Commons was called upon in 1864 to report on the general question. The report of that Committee showed the appalling destitution of the country in this particular when compared with France. At Portsmouth works were required which would take a million and a half of money: 20,0001. is taken in the estimates, which will give above seventy years for the completion of the undertaking. Plymouth is still more scurvily treated. Cork is to receive a little more attention. The West Indian and North American squadron is without a dock in its whole range, and some one is to go to Bermuda to inquire into a subject already thoroughly well known. At Malta, a still more absurd arrangement has delayed the creation of a dock. We are assured that a house divided against itself cannot stand. What shall we say of a Board of Admiralty so divided? Two members of the Board and a
Secretary make a Board of Admiralty. Two members of the Board visited Malta two years ago to decide on the best situation for a new dock. The highest naval authorities there had decided according to common sense, that the dock should be near the dockyard, and in a sheltered position. The Governor of Malta had decided, however, for some local reason, that he would prefer the dock in a more exposed part of the harbour, and two miles from the dockyard. "The Board rejected common sense and the recommendation of its authorised and competent. advisers, and adopted this most unwise proposal. This outrageous folly was delayed by Parliament, and the same Board, constituted, however, this time of two other members, went out to Malta last year and reversed the former decision. The dock, it is to be hoped, will now be made where it will be available for the public service.
This last instance is such an excellent example of the manner in which the Board of Admiralty works, that it is worth while to examine the constitution of the Admiralty. The Board of Admiralty consists of the First Lord, usually a civilian of high political standing; of four naval officers, chosen partly for their political leaning, and partly for their professional knowledge; and one junior Lord, selected from the rising young men of the party, and generally supposed to have a smattering of finance. To this six-headed representation of the Lord High Admiral are added two Secretaries—one a political partisan, and removable on a change of Government, the other a permanent official. Any two of the members of the Board and a Secretary are a Board of Admiralty, and have it in their power to reconsider and reverse the judgments of their colleagues whenever it may seem meet to them to do so. Subordinate to the Board are the permanent heads of departments, the Comptroller of the Navy, the Storekeeper-General, the Comptroller of Victualling, the Accountant-General, the Hydrographer, the Medical Director-General, the Director of Transports, the Director of Works. These officers are permanent servants of the public, irremovable, except from misconduct or by superannuation, and irresponsible to any one but to the Board of Admiralty.
Let us for a moment examine this system. The department which leads to the greatest expense is that of the Comptroller of the Navy. He is a naval officer, without any special knowledge of ship-building, chosen for his professional qualifications. He is at the head of the dockyards, and is supposed to be responsible to the Board of Admiralty for the building and repairs of the fleet. Subordinate to him again is
the Chief Constructor, who is the real planner and builder of our men-of-war, but who is responsible to no one but his immediate superior, the Comptroller, for the due execution of his duty.
How does this work? The country requires a change in the class of ships for its sea-service. The First Lord of the Admiralty, much distracted with other State affairs, at last finds time to yield to the necessity. He and a colleague, with the Secretary, having duly consulted the Treasury (if the expense be not provided in the estimate), desire the Comptroller to prepare drawings which shall carry out their views, and the Comptroller turns the matter over to the Chief Constructor. The vessel is designed, possibly on a good plan, and the Comptroller reports to the Board. Then begins the difficulty. The six Lords have each individually assigned to them certain fractions of duty at the Board. For the due performance of these duties the Board is collectively responsible, but for the execution of the separate duties described in the Distribution of Duty,' they are only responsible to each other. The result of this is, that the habit of the Board is a system of compromise, not only on minor matters of detail, but on subjects of great importance. Science is frequently obliged to yield to prejudice. In the case now under discussion, the design of the Chief Constructor, a good shipbuilder, approved by the Comptroller, a competent judge of what is needed specially for the Navy, is submitted for discussion to six gentlemen, none of whom need know anything about design, who are overworked with official routine, and each of whom probably has some preconceived and crude imagination to gratify. One, perhaps, has a belief in wooden walls, thinks that iron is liable to sink, and states that a large quantity of timber has been bought, and is in store, and that, if they take to iron shipbuilding, he will get into a scrape for having ordered so much timber in his special department. The Board feels for its erring member, and decides that the Comptroller's design shall be carried out in wood rather than in iron. Another Lord has charge of the Ordnance of the Navy. He confidently affirms that no gun above a certain weight can be used on a broadside, whilst another asserts that the broadside is the only place where guns can be used. Another compromise is resorted to, and numerous ports and small guns are ordered to be inserted in the design. In addition to this, each Lord is daily besieged by a multitude of rival inventors, some of them friends of his own; and as the Lords have no individual responsibility—through a judicious use of compromise among the various members of the Board, the Comptroller finds his design further embarrassed by a number of untried experi
ments, This slight example may serve to show how impossible it is for the Admiralty system to work well
. The same argument will hold good through all the varied duties, which are performed, as well as may be, by the permanent heads, and marred in the performance by the action of the Board of Admiralty. The Admiralty also, in an evil spirit of centralization, gradually encroaches more and more on the independent action of the naval officers in command. The electric telegraph has led them to believe, not only that they can put fleets in motion, but that they can control them in every detail on distant stations. This incessant meddling is particularly unfortunate for the public service, and restrains that freedom of action which is essential to success.
It must also be remembered that the abolition of the Navy Board has altered the whole character of the business conducted by the Admiralty. Until the Navy Board was abolished, the Admiralty employed the Navy Board to build ships for them, and otherwise to supply the fleet with what was required for its efficiency. The Admiralty in this acted as the agent for the public, and dealt with the Navy Board, which was watched as the producer of the articles required by the public for the navy. No doubt the Navy Board manufactured at the public expense, but a check existed in the very jealousies and rivalries of the two departments; and though it was not a perfect system, the public had some control. Now the Board of Admiralty are not only the agents for the public, but the producers ; and they act, moreover, in such a manner, that the responsibility is diluted, and it is never known to whom it attaches.
We should look with more complacency upon the government of the Navy by a board, if in days gone by the Admiralty had ever shown cause to lead us to believe that they had in any way contributed to our naval successes. It is easy to show, however, that no such credit is to be attributed to them. The true mark of ability in war is, with forces inferior on the whole, to be superior to the enemy on the point of attack. Let us look at a few instances of the capacity of the Admiralty measured by this standard. After two years
war, Lord Howe encountered the French fleet with an inferior force. At Cape St. Vincent fifteen sail-of-the-line were opposed to twenty-seven. At the Nile a victory was gained by an inferior fleet. At Trafalgar, and off Ferrol, the disparity was in favour of our enemies. It may, perhaps, be said that the Admiralty had a right to count on the navy being victorious against any odds. Have they any right to hold such an opinion? There was no doubt a slight superiority to be reckoned as due to an English frigate over a French frigate of equal force; but it may safely