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COLBURN'S UNITED SERVICE MAGAZINE.
THE NAVY IN 1871.
It is hardly with a sigh of relief that we enter upon a new year, and there is little but pain in reflecting upon the events of the past. A "happy new year” has been, doubtless, on the lips of many, and has been uttered as well as received, heartily and sincerely; but hearty and sincere as all our wishes may be, who can repress a feeling of heaviness and distrust, no matter how shadowy or imperceptible ? In reviewing the course which the Navy has pursued and in defining its present state, we have to confront realities instead of probabilities ; we are compelled to ask seriously, as a question of moment, “ Are we ready ?” Are the component parts of our Navy not only polished but ready for actual use?
The difficulties of European politics all point in one direction. They point in the direction of war. Its dogs have been let loose, and who shall say where they will stop ? Its infection is in the air, and who shall say where it will not spread ? We may have hugged to ourselves for a little the comfortable delusion that war was meant for other countries and not for us ; that we had entirely divorced ourselves from any positive connection with European politics; and that our geographical position was worth more in a defensive point of view than all the armies of the world. We may have had these delusions but, if so, we have only held them to abandon them. They are too like some pretty flower which has only to be smelt, to be cast away from its very nauseousness; or some fruit whose very taste forbids our use of it in spite of its appearance. Well, it is good for us our illusions have been as short lived as they were dangerous. The dream of perpetual peace for Europe has been rudely broken on the Conti. nent, and the wayward fancies of any in this country who would delude us into the belief that peace at any price was a satisfactory political principle have been scattered to the winds.
This country has been tried and, in temper, has not been found wanting. From every class comes up the cry that suffering in fortune is better than suffering in honour, and that our word is dearer to us than our comfort. In fact, if it is necessary to go to war to defend our national honour, fight we will. There is something bracing and refreshing even in this mere determina
U.S. MAG No.506, Jan., 1871.
tion; it seems to have lent an additional power in a mysterious way to the forces which we possess; and it will, at all events, encourage us in strengthening them in every way.
In what state, then, is the Navy ? To answer this question we will endeavour to review, briefly, the course of its history during the past year. To commence with, the reforms carried out in the year 1869 were continued during last year, but they took a different direction. While in the former year, the defects in naval administration were attacked, last year several changes were set on foot in the professional branches. A new retirement scheme succeeded to the reform of the Admiralty. How it will work remains to be seen ; but its terms, in spite of some remonstrances and a few anomalies, seem fair, and have been received with a certain amount of favour by all the classes of naval officers who are affected. A short enumeration of its principles will be sufficient to describe this scheme, for it is too well-known to need any detailed account.
The origin of a scheme of retirement for naval officers was not due to the present First Lord of the Admiralty. The necessity for it had been felt years before. Overcrowded lists ; slow promotion; the inability to give appointments with sufficient regularity to ensure a proper amount of active service to every officer in the Navy had been felt for years. But these difficulties, though smoothed, had not been overcome; and their existence was a blot and a dangerous defect in the machinery of the Navy. In 1860 and in 1866, schemes for improving the retirement and promotion of officers had been adopted, but had proved ineffectual. They had attempted to confer a boon on the Navy, but at the same time prejudice no existing interests in the Service, and they had, in consequence, proved abortive. Although retirement was facilitated, it was, in a very slight degree, compulsory, and did not affect all classes alike, and in the end it failed to secure any permanent benefit. Anotber disadvantage was, that additions were made to the lowest ranks in the Navy at the same rate every year; and, in a very short space of time the appointments exceeded the retirements, and the inevitable block made its appearance. And lastly, a more fatal disadvantage made its appearance, which was as insuperable as it was fatal. The gradual increase of ironclads led to the corresponding dimunition of wooden vessels, and diminished the opportunities for appointments in the Service. It must not be supposed that ironclads required less officers than the old wooden ships; on the contrary, they re. quired, perhaps, more. But this is certain, that, as the absolute necessity for ironclads arose, so arose the impression and conviction that wooden men-of-war were useless. Wooden ships were consequently condemned wholesale; the number of ships kept in commission were seriously reduced ; appointments became as rare as blackberries in July; and a wholesale stagnation made its appearance, as the inevitable result of these three conspiring, but unavoidable accidents. Thus, two years ago the state of things in the Navy, as regarded promotion, was worse than ever. So last year Mr. Childers stated, as an unquestionable reason for introducing a new retirement scheme, that the maintenance of a large number of unemployed officers was open to the most grave objections. “In the first place," he said, “it is very uneconomical; in the next place it is very mischievous, by creating discontent among the officers who are constantly on half-pay, and by causing agitation for increased pay; and, thirdly, it produces great inefficiency, because, in these days, if an officer is on shore for a long time he gets behind band with the improvements that are always going on.”
These assertions, if true, are of course, unanswerable. The changes in gunnery and shipbuilding are so rapid and so novel as to make it impossible for an officer to do effective work as an officer, unless he has a tolerable knowledge of them. Let any person accustomed to the old style of wooden vessel, be he officer or landsman, take the trouble to go over a modern ironclad like the 'Monarch,' and then let him fancy what it is to take command of such a vessel. Why, everything nearly seems altered ! The very manning of the guns is totally changed. He would find telegraphs and all sorts of mechanical or scientific ac. cessories, with whose names, possibly, he was altogether ignorant, in constant use; his education would have to commence afresh ; and without taking great pains, he would find himself virtually superseded, for all practical purposes, by younger and more experienced men. What Mr. Childers felt and what officers in the Navy felt was, that under a system of long half-pay, officers had not a fair chance.
" What are the facts,” Mr. Childers said, “in regard to the employment of officers ? I comprise under the head of employ. ments, everything that can be so called, even including the civil appointments under the Admiralty ; and, really some of these appointments would not exist but for the purpose of giving employment. I omit altogether the Retired List and take only the Active List." He then shewed that there were nearly five times as many flag officers unemployed as on full pay; or, perhaps it would be clearer to tabulate it, though tables look so unmistakeably repulsive. There were 17 Flag Officers employed, and 78 unemployed 92 Captains
199 162 Commanders
239 513 Lieutenants
135 157 Paymasters
These figures, though tedious and unattractive, are useful and very instructive; they shew that out of 3,156 officers, while 1,864 were employed, 1,292 were without employment of any kind. Bad, however, as this anomaly was, it was linked with worse; for the systems of employment, of half-pay and of retirement, were so dissimilar that hardly two classes of officers appeared to be retired or put on half-pay upon the same system. As the First Lord very properly remarked, “ The whole thing is a combination of happy accidents with individual fancies of particular Boards of Admiralty.” So, like a knight of old, Mr. Childers set himself to redress this grievance; and, like many knights of old, he not only took up an almost impossible task, but in the doing of it he encountered difficulties of a more than usually painful kind, and received more knocks than thanks. The Crusaders of old bad, at least, while they were receiving their knocks or lying helpless in the tardy process of recovery, the satisfaction of looking forward to the welcome of bright eyes, and of knowing tender cheeks paled, and soft eyes grew dim in hearing of their exploits; but to Mr. Childers, even that small satisfaction is denied. True, in stating the perilous enterprise in which he embarked, bright eyes hid from view behind the bars of a too cautious grille, might have been turned to him, but that his mission caused them to glisten we very much doubt, unless it were with the action of an unrepressed yawn. No, the only cheeks or eyes which changed colour at the warning of this new crusade, were those of half-pay admirals and captains, or young officers waiting for promotion, and, it is needless to say that the interest they exhibited was hardly of a cheering character.
Nor need this be wondered at, when we understand how crusader-like and uncompromising the retirement terms were. It was proposed to establish " an universal compulsory retirement for all ranks, with, in many instances, the option of an easy retirement.” In fact, it was proposed to retire all admirals of the fleet at the age of 70; all admirals and vice-admirals at 65; all rear-admirals at 60; all captains at 55; all commanders at 50; and all lieutenants at 45. And it was further proposed to retire all officers who had not served for a certain period—a flag-officer after ten years' absence from service; a captain after seven years ; and a lieutenant after five.
No such comprebensive scheme as this has been within our recollection introduced into the Naval Service. That amongst many officers it spread consternation, may well be imagined, but amongst the majority it could only be regarded as a boon. By its terms, many officers, tired of a service in which they had so slight a part, and in which promotion was so rare, were glad to part from it on the reasonable terms which were offered. In fact, the scheme was statesmanlike in its conception ; being in its terms good for the country, the service, and for most of the officers whom it affected.