Page images
PDF
EPUB

as to dockyards and shipbuilding ; but the whole administration of the Navy is in such a state of confusion, that it will be safer to chronicle the principal naval events of the last twelve months as nearly as may be in the order of time, and leave the result to the judgment of the public.

Little more than a year ago the loss of the Captain'occurred. Mr. Childers, who up to that moment had assumed the trident of Neptune and the port of Mars, at once found it necessary to throw the blame of this deplorable event on his colleagues. Lord Henry Lennox pointed out, in his clear and convincing statement, that it was generally hoped that when the CourtMartial had reported, Mr. Childers would have come down and confessed that, like many professional persons, he had been deceived ; that upon him rested the sole responsibility for the frightful catastrophe; and that the country had the best security that at most it was an error in judgment, in the sad and melancholy fact that he trusted his own son on board the “Captain.' We concur in this feeling; but, instead of taking this course, Mr. Childers attempted to throw the blame upon others and to stifle inquiry. A Court-Martial of the highest character having investigated the cause of the loss of the ship, and having in their sentence recorded their opinion that the Controller and his department had generally disapproved of the construction of the • Captain,' as well as having expressed their regret that the

Captain' was allowed to be employed in the ordinary service of the fleet before her qualities had been sufficiently ascertained by calculation and experiment, were rebuked by a Board Minute, unsigned, but which it is not denied emanated from Mr. Childers.

In defence of his conduct he further published, without consulting or informing his colleagues, another Minute reflecting most injuriously on one member at least of his Board, and by the 359 pages so published he hoped to exculpate himself and to inculpate his colleagues; but this most unfair conduct is best described in the draft Report of the Duke of Somerset, as Chairman of the Committee of the House of Lords on the Board of Admiralty. His Grace, a strong Whig and a First Lord himself of great experience, says :

On the 30th November, 1870, Mr. Childers wrote a Minute relating to the loss of the Captain. This Minute seriously affected the official reputation of Sir Spencer Robinson, a Lord of the Admiralty and Controller of the Navy. This Minute was published without having been seen by Sir S. Dacres or Sir Spencer Robinson.

Such a proceeding on the part of the First Lord of the Admiralty was, so far as the Committee are aware, entirely unprecedented. . . . Mr.Childers,

[ocr errors]

being himself nominally responsible for sending this vessel to sca, constituted himself a judge of the case, and, exempting himself from all blame, distributed censure among a number of persons, while he placed the chief weight on the Controller, who had been by a former board specially released from this responsibility.'

Eleven months after the event-until which time, from various causes, the discussion of this question was adjourned-Mr. Goschen could only say that he was unable to undertake the defence of his predecessor and late colleague, and asked to defer that duty until Mr. Childers was able to return to his Parliamentary duty. What more Mr. Childers may be able to state than is contained in those 359 pages of defence, of course it is impossible to foretell ; but, so far as we are at present able to judge, a ship worth half-a-million, and, rightly used, a powerful engine of war, and—what was of far more value-500 British seamen, were lost through the proceedings of the First Lord of the Admiralty.

To explain this it requires us to show how the 'Captain’ was lost. Captain Coles, the ingenious inventor of the cupola and turntable for working heavy guns, had, until 1865, recommended the adoption of two classes of ships for carrying his armament: the one a low-freeboard, unmasted monitor, for coast and harbour defence; the other a high-freeboard, masted, seagoing cruiser. It may be as well here to explain what is the line which shipbuilders draw between high and low freeboard. The Turret-Ship Committee, presided over, in 1865, by Lord Lauderdale, report, on the highest authority, that the height of the deck from the water-line is not to be less than 5 feet in a vessel 120 feet long, and that 1 foot is to be added for every additional 30 feet in length.

Captain Coles then proposed to build a seagoing cupola-ship to compete with the . Pallas. Her length was to be 228 feet, and her height 10 feet from water-line to deck. therefore, a high-freeboard ship, being 1 foot 5 inches in excess of the height above specified. This ship, as having only one turret, was not accepted by the Duke of Somerset's Admiralty, and they determined to build the · Monarch ’ to carry Captain Coles's armament.

The · Monarch’ did not seem to Captain Coles to carry out his intention; and the Duke of Somerset wisely, as we think, authorised him, in concert with Messrs. Laird, to design a ship which should entirely illustrate his own conception. On the 14th of July, 1866, Messrs. Laird's design for the Captain 'was referred to the Controller's department by the Duke of Somerset. Two days after (on the 16th) Sir John Pakington took his seat as

This was,

First Lord, and on the 20th the Controller reported in general terms that Messrs. Laird's design might be accepted; "but,' added Sir Spencer Robinson, 'I am doubtful whether the proposed height of the upper deck out of the water, viz., 8 feet, combined with the length and draught of water of this design, will be satisfactory for a seagoing cruising ship.'

This was obvious; for the Captain 'was to be 320 feet long, requiring 12 feet freeboard to make her safe as a sail-carrying cruising ship. Nevertheless, the experiment was properly determined upon, knowing well that great caution must be used when under sail, and with the confident expectation that, if it were found impossible to use the Captain' as a sailing ship, a most powerful monitor would be added to the Navy. From this day forward to her launch, Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Reed continually warned the Admiralty

and the public of the hazardous character of such a ship and of the extreme caution necessary in handling her.

On the 2nd of August, 1866, Mr. Reed remarked that, on further investigation, he found the stability of the Captain' was not so undoubted as he had at first supposed. On September 9th, 1867, Sir Spencer Robinson stated that ships with low freeboards would upset under canvas in a breeze of wind, after receiving a moderate inclination.' Then, pointing out that, under certain circumstances of sea and position, ' at 11° heel, the pressure of the wind on her sails would carry her over,' . this element of danger, says Sir Spencer Robinson, 'requires to be carefully borne in mind in all turret-ships carrying sail.'

On the 4th April, 1868, Mr. Reed stated with regard to lowfreeboard ships :

• Should she roll beyond her position of maximum stability, she would have her time of roll increased, and the following circumstances would then occur. When reaching the hollow she would not have finished her oscillation, and might be still rolling towards the approaching wave; the alteration of the direction of the water surface caused by the front of the approaching wave, instead of developing in the ship a greater amount of stability tending to right her, as is the case with all ships that have a high freeboard—would diminish what stability there was remaining, and the danger of her being blown over if she carried sail would be very great.'

On the 3rd March, 1869, Mr. Childers having then been in office for some months, Mr. Reed reported to him that the

Captain' would have a freeboard of only 6 feet, utterly unsafe and out of the question in so large a ship without a breastwork;' and on the 15th March, 1870, Sir S. Robinson observed that the Captain’ was immersed 22 inches deeper than her design, and that the consequences of this having been pointed out by Mr. Reed, they appeared to Sir S. Robinson so serious as to make him propose that the final payment should be deferred until the ship had been tried at sea.

than

It must be remembered that, for a length of 320 feet, as already stated, 12 feet freeboard were necessary in a seagoing, sail-carrying ship, and the . Captain' was ready for sea, having not much much more than half that amount of freeboard. Messrs. Laird, the builders, before the final payment, called attention to this matter, and requested a further scientific investigation as to her stability. This investigation was delayed until August by the Admiralty, but without much effect upon the final result. For the investigation did not show the ship to be more critical than she was already known to be by the Admiralty, owing to the many reports Mr. Childers had received from his scientific advisers.

On the 31st May, 1870, Sir S. Robinson, having been at sea with the “Captain' and `Monarch,' reported, in the the words of an unprejudiced scientific officer who was sent to assist him, • The “Captain” is not a ship which should be much pressed under sail; a heel of 14° would bring her gunwale to the water, and from that point of course her stability would very rapidly decrease.'

On the 30th June, 1870, Sir Thomas Symonds, the admiral under whose command the ships next were, reported that he deemed no free board sufficiently high that obliges the use of a forecastle, and recommended the height of the Sultan' a highfreeboard, broadside ship, as that to be a adopted for turretships.

Now what effect had all these various reports and warnings on the mind of Mr. Childers? It may confidently be said that lie totally disregarded them. He thought himself a more competent seaman, a more skilful shipbuilder than those whose advice his predecessors had accepted, and whom the country had appointed to advise him. Indeed before the Captain' had been tried at sea, he had determined to build more specimens of her class. Mr. Reed before the Court-Martial gave evidence as follows:-'I should state to the court, that nearly a year ago I did what I thought was right, in resisting, to the utmost of my power, a desire on the part of the First Lord of the Admiralty to increase the number of “ Captains.” Mr. Reed's resistance at length succeeded in postponing this harebrained proposal, till the loss of the Captain' put an end to it for ever. The place of Chief Constructor was, however, made too hot for Mr. Reed, and he was compelled to resign his office with all the accumulated

experience

experience of years. Other countries are benefiting by his skill, whilst our Navy suffers from Mr. Childers' incapacity. To try the Captain'at sea was right—she was built for the purpose ; but to try her without giving full information to the officers entrusted with the hazardous experiment, was rashness bordering on insanity. Sir Alexander Milne, one of the most able and experienced of British admirals, who was commanding the fleet in which she was lost, stated before the Court-Martial, that he received no plans either from the Admiralty or from the builders of the Captain' and that he had only received Sir Thomas Symonds' official report, from which Sir Thomas Symond's letter above alluded to was excluded.

Now it must be remembered that there was, in the possession of Mr. Childers, Sir S. Robinson's last report in addition to all his former reports), in which he distinctly pointed out that when the Captain' heeled to 14°, she was in danger of capsizing. Sir Alexander Milne, who had been on board the • Captain' all day, remarked on the way in which the ship was heeling over. If he had been informed of the angle at which the ship’s heel became dangerous,-information, with all the other depreciatory reports locked up in Mr. Childers's bureau,he would have shortened sail with his squadron, rather than run any risk to one of the ships under his orders. We say advisedly, he would have made the fleet shorten sail, for if the admiral had ordered the Captain' alone to shorten sail before any catastrophe happened, all the partizans (and they were many) of low-freeboard cruizers would have assailed him with reproach, for damaging her reputation in comparison with the high freeboard ships of the fleet. Any sailor can say how the • Captain' was lost; any sailor can say how she might have been afloat to this day.

Captain Burgoyne, an experienced seaman, tired out with the fatigues of the day, had gone to rest. The lieutenant of the first-watch had received orders to keep his station in order of sailing. The night was squally, but he carried sail, as in duty bound, to keep his station. During his watch he had experienced a squall, and the ship had come safely through it. At midnight a new lieutenant had taken charge. The ship was in her station: a fresh and heavier squall struck the ship, and she went over.

If Mr. Childers had done his duty, and acquainted Captain Burgoyne that the ship should on no account be allowed to heel over to 14o, as that heel was dangerous, orders to that effect would have been in the night order-book. The lieutenant would have shortened sail in time, and the ship would have been saved. Poor Captain Burgoyne's last inquiry Vol. 131.—No. 262.

2 G

on

« PreviousContinue »