"Naval Administration" by Sir Vesey Hamilton
"Naval Administration" by Sir Vesey Hamilton

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"Naval Administration" by Sir Vesey Hamilton, G.C.B. (1896)



The existing constitution of the Board of Admiralty is regulated by the Order in Council of March 19th, 1872, modified by that of March 10th, 1882, which involved the re-inclusion of the Controller as a member of the Board, and the suppression of the Naval Secretaryship, as well as the addition of a Civil Lord with special mechanical and engineering knowledge, whose office has not been filled up since the resignation of Mr. G.W. Rendel in 1885. The Board of Admiralty is thus comprised of:

The First LordCommissioners for
executing the
office of Lord Admiral.
The First Sea Lord
The Second Sea Lord
The Third Lord and Controller
The Junior Sea Lord
The Civil Lord
The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary 
The Permanent Secretary.

The First Lord is responsible to the Crown and to Parliament for all the business of the Admiralty, and commits carefully defined duties to the other Lords and the Secretaries. The First Sea Lord, the Second Sea Lord, and the Junior Sea Lord are responsible to the First Lord for so much of the business relating to the personnel of the Navy and the movements and condition of the fleet as is confided to them; the Controller is responsible in the same way for the material of the Navy; and the Parliamentary Secretary for the finance and other business with which he may be charged; while the Civil Lord and Permanent Secretary have each special duties assigned to them by the First Lord. Within the lines laid down by the Order in Council the distribution of business among the Lords is an internal disposition of the Admiralty, in the discretion of the First Lord, who commonly, upon taking office, discusses the question at the Board and passes, the distribution arranged, which varies little, as a Board minute.

The First Lord of the Admiralty.- The responsible head of the naval administration is the Cabinet Minister known as the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, as a member of the Government, is the channel through which the Navy receives its political direction, and, through successive First Lords, is shaped in character and strength in accordance with imperial policy. The constitutional position of the First Lord was dealt with in the last chapter. Being responsible for all the business of the Admiralty, he possesses the power both of initiative and veto. By his supreme direction our maritime affairs are conducted. He is the representative of the Navy in Parliament. To him the country looks for its readiness and sufficiency. In practice, as a civilian, the First Lord depends very largely upon the other Lords. In the view of Lord George Hamilton, indeed (First Lord, 1885-1892), his responsibility to Parliament consists largely in seeing that competent and efficient men have certain duties assigned to them under him. He is responsible for the Admiralty as the Premier is for the Cabinet, or as the admiral commanding a fleet is responsible for that fleet. No responsibility would attach to that admiral for a collision between ships which did not result from his orders or from the want of them. If the naval advisers of the First Lord upon the Board do not approve his policy, it is their responsibility to advise him, and, if their advice be not accepted, they have the remedy of protest or resignation. But, inasmuch as the First Lord has selected or accepted his advisers as the most able of professional men, he is very largely guided by their views. Sir Arthur

(Lord Hood of Avalon), First Naval Lord, who had had a long experience of the Admiralty, was, indeed, able to tell the Select Committee on the Navy Estimates, 1888, that he could not recall a single instance in which a First Lord had vetoed any important question which had been placed before him, contrary to the views of the Naval Lord who had been charged with those administrative duties.

Within recent years something has been done by First Lords towards affixing responsibility upon the individual members of the Board, by more clearly defining their duties, still as an internal regulation of the Admiralty subject to change, and alterations have been made to secure that end. Lord George Hamilton laid down a rule that no member of the Board was to write a paper outside his own department, and circulate it, until it had first come to him as First Lord for decision as to whether or not that paper should be sent to other members of the Board. But the right of the Lords to see the First Lord whenever they wished it remained, and remains, and this disposition does not derogate from the authority and influence they exercise.

In addition to the general direction and supervision of all business relating to the Navy, and of the political questions that concern it, the First Lord, as will be seen, deals with all Board matters, and the internal regulation of the Admiralty. He has special charge of promotions and of removals of naval and marine officers from the service, and of all questions relating to honours and rewards. With him also remain the appointments of flag officers, captains, officers commanding ships, commanders to the coastguard, and the superior officers of the medical service, staff appointments to the Royal Marines, and civil appointments and promotions, except such as are provided for under the Controller and the Civil Lord, with the nomination to naval cadetships and to assistant clerkships of the Navy. Upon these or other points he is free to obtain the opinion of one or all of his advisers.

The First Sea Lord. - Sir James Graham, while holding the First Lord to be responsible for every act, and that he could not shelter himself under any advice, spoke of the Senior Naval Lord as his "first naval adviser," and Mr. Childers and Lord George Hamilton regarded this Lord as exercising "functions almost similar to those of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army." The former view, in my opinion, is correct. Although in theory the First Sea Lord is responsible for the personnel of the fleet, as distinguished from the material, in practice this is not so; for he is concerned with the material as soon as it is put in commission, and with the actual commissioning of it. In short, his work is chiefly in relation to the employment of the fleet, though he exercises great weight in regard to the character and sufficiency of it; and his advice is always sought, with that of the other Naval Lords, upon questions of ship-building policy, in relation to which he may initiate suggestions. Sir Arthur Hood regarded the consultation between the First Sea Lord and the Controller upon plans of ships furnished by the Chief Constructor in accordance with the orders of the Board, as the "first vital step" in the ship-building procedure, one Lord bringing to the discussion knowledge of the fighting requirements of ships, the other technical competence, through his advisers, in matters of naval construction. It will thus be seen, as a broad definition of the First Sea Lord's duties and authority, that they cover the fighting efficiency and actual employment of the fleet. Upon him, and upon the Controller, the naval business is very largely centred, and his influence upon the naval councils of the country is of the highest importance.

The special duties assigned to the First Sea Lord have to do largely with ships in commission and their movements, and with the distribution (or war disposition) and organization of the fleet. It is his particular province to advise upon questions of maritime defence and naval strategy as influencing policy. He has general supervision of the mobilization of the fleet, both personnel and material, and of the Intelligence Department. He appoints commanders (second in command) and takes charge of matters concerning gunnery and torpedoes, as relating to personnel and ships in commission. Another very important part of his duty is to supervise the discipline of the fleet; and Sir Frederick Grey, in 1871, said that this work occupied a large part of his time. The duty involves charge of courts-martial and courts of inquiry, with punishment returns; and the minutes of courts-martial pass upward to him with the remarks of the Junior and Second Sea Lords, and are considered, before being submitted to the First Lord. Another important matter within the special province of the First Sea Lord is the protection of trade and of fisheries. The Hydrographical Department and pilotage are under his supervision, and he deals with signals, collisions, the slave trade, prize questions, and leave to officers and men, with the movements of, and orders to, naval attachés. It is a great and complex business, demanding the closest personal attention, but knowledge of it by the First Sea Lord, as chief naval adviser, is necessary; and, aided by the constant personal contact of members of the Board, successive holders of the office have found it possible to devote adequate attention to the duties.

The Second Sea Lord. - Like the other Lords of the Admiralty, the Second Sea Lord is subordinate only to the First Lord, though his work, in certain matters, is closely related in a secondary degree to that of the First Sea Lord. Many very important matters are in his charge, but none more so than the manning of the fleet, and the education and training of the personnel, with the affairs of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Royal Marine Artillery. Within his department fall the training establishments, including those for engineer students, the naval colleges, and the education of officers, and of men and boys for the Navy, as well as the Royal Marine Schools, except in regard to civil appointments. He appoints navigating officers and lieutenants, except to commands, and sub-lieutenants, midshipmen, cadets, engineer officers, gunners, and boatswains, and supervises the officers and men of the Steam Reserve. The mobilization of the personnel of the fleet, the pensioners, and the reserve men, and therefore the affairs of the Coastguard (except in regard to buildings), and the Royal Naval Reserve are in his province. He deals further with engine-room artificers and with interpreters, as well as with the award of medals. Another important duty is in regard to deserters and the removal of men who have run. The duties assigned to the Second Sea Lord make him the constant colleague of the First Sea Lord, in whose temporary absence he should be able to conduct the administrative affairs of the latter, A happy illustration of the facility of business which distinguishes the work of the Lords of the Admiralty from that of the heads of departments is to be found in the relations which existed between Sir Frederick Grey and Vice-Admiral Eden, when they were First and Second Sea Lords respectively. Called to constant personal communication upon such matters as the complements of ships and the manning of the fleet, of which they were severally superintending Lords, and meeting for frequent discussion at the Board, each knew intimately the other's work (as they explained to the House of Lords Committee in 1871) and upon occasions could take charge of it with perfect confidence. Such, freedom of personal communication between the Lords is essential to the Admiralty system.

The Third Naval Lord and Controller of the Navy. - The Controller of the Navy, at one time known as the Surveyor, though an officer of long standing, representing the Comptroller of Henry VIII's days, is a comparatively recent addition to the Admiralty Board, He first took his seat - being made a Lord owing to the anomaly of his position in regard to control of expenditure - under the Patent of December 18th, 1869, with charge of the departments of Construction, Stores, and Ordnance, but lost it again in 1872, and resumed his place at the Board upon the reconstitution of 1882. His duties are of very great importance in relation to the material of the fleet, comparable to those of the First Sea Lord in regard to the personnel, and he is the directing Lord of a number of most important civil branches of which I shall have to speak when I deal with the "machinery" of naval administration. Under the Controller are ranged the whole of the means by which the material elements of the fleet are created and maintained in a state of efficiency; but, inasmuch as this volume does not deal with the detailed and practical work of the dockyards and other local establishments, the ultimate reach of the Controllers superintendence extends beyond its scope. The work of his department may be explained best under five heads, of which the first is the design and construction of ships and machinery; the second, naval armaments; the third, dockyard administration and work; the fourth, naval stores; and the fifth, dockyard expense accounts.

The Controller submits proposals in regard to the designs of new ships, upon which decision of the Board is necessary, and superintends the preparation of plans. He is responsible for the carrying into effect of the decisions of the Board regarding ships built and building, including masting, torpedo, electrical, and all nautical apparatus. He surveys ships in progress at the dockyards, and in private yards, in order to see that they are according to design and the decisions of the Board, and to his own satisfaction. No alteration can be made in a ship built, or building, without his authority, and the sanction of the Board, He also surveys merchant vessels for acceptance as auxiliary cruisers, and submits annual estimates for ships and machinery to be built or obtained by contract, for use in preparing the Navy Estimates; and he is responsible for the design and manufacture by contract of steam machinery for ships and boats. Here the Director of Naval Construction and the Engineer-in-Chief are his lieutenants.

In the same way, in regard to armaments, it is his duty to see that the decisions of the Board touching the gunnery and torpedo armament of ships are carried out, and to him are submitted all important questions relating to ordnance and torpedo material which concern the design and construction, repairing and fitting of ships, their guns, and gun and torpedo mountings and fittings, magazines, shell-rooms, and electrical apparatus. In this department the Director of Naval Ordnance is the Controller's assistant. The Director of Dockyards, acting under the Controller's responsibility, assists him in regard to the management, work, and machinery of the dockyards at home and the naval yards abroad, in the building of ships and boats in the dockyards, and the maintenance of ships and machinery in a state of efficiency. The Controller is also responsible for purchasing the plant and machinery of the Victualling Yards, and supervises the Director of Dockyards in his work of preparing the programme of work to be done in the dockyards, and regulating the number, appropriation, and pay of men, and the appropriation of materials in accordance with approved programmes. To the Controller, also, falls the care of estimates for plant and machinery for the dockyards and other establishments, and he submits proposals for the extension and repair of buildings and other works carried out in the yards by the Director of Works. The Director of Stores, under the Controller's authority and responsibility, maintains the supply of naval stores and of shipbuilding materials for the dockyards and depots at home and abroad, prepares estimates for stores for the purposes of the Navy Estimates, and examines the store account of ships, the last being a duty transferred from the Accountant-General. Through the Inspector of Dockyard Expense Accounts the Controller is responsible for the keeping of accounts of dockyard expenditure, and for seeing that outlay is charged as directed; also for the preparation of shipbuilding and manufacturing expense accounts of the yards for submission to Parliament. In regard to the Estimates, the Controller, through his subordinates, is responsible for the preparation and administration of Vote 8 (save some sub-headings) and Vote 9, and thus, in 1894-95, for the outlaying of about £8,000,000.

The Junior Sea Lord. - This member of the Admiralty Board is the supervising Lord of the Transport, Medical and Victualling Services, with the regulation of hospitals and hospital ships. He is also responsible for every detail of the arrangements for coaling the fleet, and thus has a most important work in regard to the efficient employment of the Navy. His duties necessarily bring him into constant personal communication with the First Sea Lord. He has to do with the appointment of chaplains and naval instructors, medical officers (except as otherwise provided), and of paymasters, assistant paymasters, clerks, assistant clerks, and ships' carpenters. The Junior Naval Lord is also in charge of a vast array of work in regard to writers and ships' stewards, assistants, boys, and nursing staff; full and half pay, table moneys, and compensations and allowances to the fleet; uniforms; the debts of officers and men; ships' libraries, prize money and bounties; deserters' effects, salvage, naval savings banks, and the freight on conveyance of treasure; and also pensions to seamen and marines and widows of naval and marine officers.

The Civil Lord. - In the department of the Civil Lord, who is the supervising Lord of the Works Department, and under special charge of the Director of Works, lies all that concerns Admiralty buildings and works, their construction and repair, including contracts and purchases of building stores and land, and the buildings, sites, and leases of the coastguard stations. The Civil Lord is responsible for the civil staff of the naval establishments, including classification, appointment, promotion, pay, allowances, and pension, except promotions and appointments in London, and of professional officers of the Controller's Department at the Dockyards. The same Lord deals with Greenwich Hospital business, compassionate allowances, the charitable fund, allowances to ministers of religion, Dockyard and Marine Schools, and special questions relating to the retirement, pay, and allowances of naval and marine officers and men.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary. - The great and growing magnitude of naval finance, and the necessity for efficient financial control, have added largely to the importance of the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, who is responsible for the finance of the Department, for the Navy Estimates, and for matters of expenditure generally, and is consulted in regard to all questions involving reference to the Treasury financially. Upon the report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons, 1885, an inter-departmental committee was appointed to inquire into the financial administration of the Admiralty, and reported that the controlling powers of the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary were complete, but that it was desirable "that permanent assistance should be afforded him in the direction of financial criticism and control, by placing the Accountant-General in closer relationship with him." The Accountant-General, therefore, as assistant to the Financial Secretary, was placed in a position to offer financial criticism of proposed expenditure; but the principle of a financial officer commenting upon outlay which Her Majesty's professional advisers considered essential for the good of the country, was not readily accepted at the Admiralty, and much discussion occurred upon the condition of things that then ensued. It is not, however, necessary here to enter farther into the administrative power of the Accountant-General, with whose work I shall deal when I come to describe his special department of work. His position in regard to estimates and expenditure, and as adviser of the Financial Secretary, is of much importance. In addition to its general work in the matter of estimates and expenditure, the department of the Financial Secretary is charged to examine proposals for new and unusual expenditure, and superintends the purchase and sale of ships and of general stores, and the payment of hire of ships accepted as armed cruisers, etc., besides much other financial business. To the Financial Secretary also fall questions connected with the Exchequer and Audit Department.

The Permanent Secretary. - The department of the Permanent Secretary, subdivided into the military, naval, and legal branches, each under a principal clerk, with the civil branch under the Assistant-Secretary, and the record office and the registry and copying branch, has been described as the "nerve centre" of the Admiralty, and, since it embraces the channel through which papers for the Lords of the Admiralty pass, for the intercommunication of departments, and for Board correspondence, that description is not inappropriate. But the work of registry and transmission is the smallest function of the Secretariat. Each branch has highly important duties confided to it, as the next chapter of this volume will show, and the department initiates and conducts a great deal of work independently. Generally speaking the work of the branches may be said to embrace matters relating to the commissioning of ships and the distribution of the fleet, the manning and discipline of the Navy, and the appointment, promotion, and pensioning of all persons employed under the Admiralty, both naval and civil. In the work of transmission, too, papers are sent on, as much as possible, with the detail of what is to be done upon them, or reported upon up to a certain point, and are accompanied, where necessary, by references to illustrative precedents. The Permanent Secretary is responsible for the discipline and proper working of the Admiralty departments, and with him rest recommendations for appointments in the office. It is his duty to attend the meetings of the Admiralty Board, and, in a real sense, it may be said of this highly important officer that he is the repository of Admiralty traditions, and of a vast body of information accessible to no other single individual, and that through him and the Assistant-Secretary the central work of the Board is almost wholly carried on. His personal duty is to obtain a practical insight into Admiralty work and administration, to prevent the various Departments from acting independently, and to keep the thread of administration unbroken on the constitution of a new Board.

Tabulation of the Relation of the Lords of the Admiralty to the various Departments.

First LordAccountant-General.Finance.
Director of Contracts (who is also under the superintending Lords of the departments for which purchases are made).
All departments, as regards financial questions.
Civil LordDirector of Works.Works and civil personnel.
Accountant-General, in regard to special questions affecting pay and allowances of the fleet.
Director of Greenwich Hospital.
ControllerDirector of Naval Construction.Material of the
Director of Dockyards.
Engineer-in-Chief, as regards material.
Director of Naval Ordnance, as regards material.
Director of Stores, except as regards coals for the fleet.
Expense Accounts Branch.
Junior Naval LordDirector of Transports.Personnel of the
Navy; movement, condition, and
organization of the
fleet (including
coaling); and
maritime defense.
Director-General of the Medical Department.
Director of Victualling.
Director of Stores, as regards coals for the fleet.
Accountant-General, in regard to certain allowances, table money, etc.
Chaplain of the Fleet, as regards chaplains and naval instructors.
Intelligence Department, as regards mobilization matters affecting the above duties.
Second Sea LordAdmiral Superintendent of Naval Reserves, as regards personnel.
Engineer-in-chief, as regards personnel.
Chaplain of the Fleet, as regards naval schools.
Manning the Navy.
Intelligence Department, as regards mobilization of the fleet.
Deputy Adjt.-General Royal Marines.
First Sea LordAdmiral Superintendent of Naval Reserves, as regards ships.
Director of Naval Ordnance, as regards gunnery and torpedo training establishments.
Naval Intelligence Department.
The Permanent Secretary superintends all correspondence in the name of the Board, prevents the various departments acting independently, and provides for the execution of orders

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