"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 reader has now been informed concerning the character and features of the Admiralty system in general. I have shown the organic growth of the Board of Admiralty, how it has developed under changing conditions to meet new and expanding needs, and yet how, working upon lines laid down through ancient precedent, and sanctioned more by immemorial custom than by explicit instruments, it still, in its operations, exhibits something of the rapid dealing and elastic methods of procedure which would be possible in the business affairs of a single untrammelled individual - of the Lord High Admiral, who once, as representative of the Crown, had direct control over all naval concerns. I have explained how the happy constitution of the Admiralty Board has enabled it to handle a mass of business now grown to vast complexity, without splitting up into over-specialized departments, presided over by independent chiefs with duties and offices sharply and precisely defined. The existing organization and administrative system, were then explained, and it has been seen in what relation the several Lords of the Admiralty stand to the Civil Departments of the Navy which are under their direction, and under the control of the Admiralty Board.

These Civil Departments now claim attention. They are the machinery of naval administration, the organized and executive branches through which the work is carried on. I take first the highly-important Department of the Permanent Secretary, formerly known as the Naval Department, because it is the immediate organ of the Board. Other Civil Departments have duties more readily defined, but none more important. Thus the Director of Naval Construction, the Engineer-in-Chief, the Directors of Naval Ordnance, of Dockyards, and of Stores, and the Inspector of Dockyard Expense Accounts, all tributary to the Controller, are concerned with the material side of the Navy. The Admiral Superintendent of Naval Reserves, the Adjutant-General of Royal Marines, the Director of Victualling, the Medical Director General, and the heads of some subsidiary branches, are occupied with special sections of the personnel, and with particular duties towards the personnel generally. The Accountant-General is devoted wholly to finance, and the Contract and Purchase Department, whose duties are indicated by its title, is closely connected with him. In the same way the Directors of Naval Intelligence, Hydrography, Transports, and Works, have particular duties confided to them by the Board. But the duties of the Permanent Secretary cannot be so clearly defined, and for this reason, that he is the mouthpiece of the Board, and his Department the machinery by which a great deal of its varied work is carried on.

Up till 1869, roughly speaking, the Secretariat, besides carrying out special executive duties which were not dealt with in any other Department, was also the channel by which submissions from the other Departments reached their Lordships, whose decision was conveyed to those Departments by means of letters written in the Secretariat and signed by the Secretary. Under this arrangement no important decision could be arrived at without the special cognizance of the Secretary and his Department; and the orders of the Board passed through one channel, which thus became the central depository of official knowledge. This, notwithstanding some alterations which, have been introduced, the Department of the Permanent Secretary still continues to be.

Changes, however, were introduced in 1869 to modify the system then existing, which, by its nature, caused some duplication of work and consequent delay, and certain of the Departments were authorized to communicate directly with, and all of them to execute directly the orders of the Board or of their Superintending Lords, without the intervention of the Secretariat.

These changes were still further carried into effect in 1879-80, when the "Naval Department" was reconstructed as the "Secretary's Department," on the basis of the report of a committee presided over by Sir Massey Lopes, the intention being to restrict the functions of the Secretariat, so far as the other Departments were concerned, to dealing with the political, disciplinary, personal, and executive aspects of any question which these Departments brought before the Board.

The work of the Department proper may he said generally to embrace matters relating to the commissioning of ships and the distribution of the fleet; to the manning and discipline of the Navy; and to the appointment, promotion, and pensioning of all persons employed under the Admiralty, both naval and civil. This work is conducted under the direct personal orders of the Board, in the Military (or Secret and Political), the Naval, the Legal, and the Civil Branches, each presided Over by a Principal Clerk, except the Civil Branch, which is in charge of the Assistant Secretary.

Looking a little more closely into the duties of the branches of the Secretariat, we find that the Military Branch - having its most important duty in time of peace in regard to the commissioning, distribution, and paying off of ships, their complements and questions of leave - takes charge also of political correspondence, the suppression of piracy, and the protection of trade and fisheries, matters of quarantine, scientific exploration, signals and signal books, salutes, and much other like business. This branch is the secret and political office of the Admiralty, and is intrusted with the conduct of confidential affairs, and, in war time, would be generally the directing channel of operations, charged with questions relating to home and colonial defence, blockades, embargoes, prizes, and other matters incidental to hostile operations.

The Naval Branch is largely occupied with the great work of officering and manning the fleet, and is therefore the main channel of the Second Sea Lord's operations. Here all general arrangements and regulations are made for the entry of men and boys, and the work of training ships, and the badges, promotion, and discharge of men. Again, the branch is concerned with all that relates to the education of officers, and to appointments, promotions, leave, retirements, removals, restorations, services, and claims of officers, good service and other pensions, and generally of honours, distinctions, decorations, medals, etc. The establishment and internal economy of the Corps of Royal Marines, and the general arrangements and regulations of the Coastguard and Reserves, are also within the scope of this branch, with other work relating to the personnel.

The duties of the Civil Branch are analogous on the civil side of the Navy. Thus it deals with the appointments, promotions, retirements, pay, allowances, and leave of all salaried persons (including naval officers at the Admiralty) in Admiralty establishments, and of all persons on day pay, as well as with Civil Service examinations for these classes. The branch is further occupied in matters relating to civil appointments and fees at Greenwich Hospital, and civil superannuations and gratuities. Again, it deals with compensation to officers for wounds and injuries, with naval and Greenwich Hospital pensions, etc., to seamen and marines, with medals for long service, conspicuous gallantry, and meritorious service, with widows' pensions, compassionate allowances to children of naval and marine officers, and much else.

The Legal Branch deals with questions of discipline, courts-martial, courts of inquiry and naval courts, desertions, discharges with disgrace, prisons and prisoners, punishment returns, etc. It also supervises the inspection returns of ships, and deals with matters concerning the slave trade, flags, colours, ensigns, and uniforms; and questions relating to the Queen's Regulations, and the legal aspect of blockades, prizes, etc., fall within its range. The Record Office, in which papers are stored upon an admirable system, is also attached to the Secretariat, in addition to the Registry and Copying Branches.

This brief and imperfect survey of the work conducted in the Department of the Permanent Secretary will show how highly important it is, not only in regard to the conduct of general business, but especially in relation to the personnel of the Navy, and the regulation and employment of the fleet. The "Naval Department" was reorganized, as I have said, in accordance with the recommendation of Sir Massey Lopes' committee in 1879, and a higher rate of pay was sanctioned, "not simply because the Secretary's Department has confidential work to perform, for this might be said, though in different degrees, of almost every public office, but because we also contemplate its performing serious and difficult administrative duty." In addition to work of this character, which may be described as deliberative and consultative, it has been seen that the Secretariat, including a Registry, has duties of a mechanical kind; but the registration of papers is the smallest and least considerable part of the Department's work. It is, however, the channel of intercommunication between Departments, and vast numbers of papers pass in the course of the year through the Secretary's hands, being marked by him for the Lord or the Department to which they should go. Moreover, in submitting papers to the several Lords, the branches indicate the detail of what is to be done upon them, or report upon them with reference to precedents where needful; and the Record Office of the Department has an excellent system for reference to all necessary papers.

The branches of the Department are directly administered by the Permanent Secretary, whose personal duty also consists in obtaining a practical insight into all Admiralty work, to whatever Department belonging; in having a general hold of the Admiralty administration; in signing all letters in the name of the Board, from whatever Department emanating; in seeing that the various Departments do not act independently of each other; and in keeping the thread of administration unbroken on the constitution of a new Board.

The Permanent Secretary is therefore the repository of a vast mass of information accessible to no other single individual, and by him, in a real sense, the traditions of the Admiralty are preserved unbroken through unceasing change.

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