"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 purpose of this volume is to describe the organization, system, and working of the Board of Admiralty, and of the Civil Departments through which its operations are conducted, to explain and illustrate the character and procedure of our Naval Administration. The subject will, I believe, be admitted to be one of the highest importance, because with the Admiralty Board rests the constitution, maintenance and distribution of the Fleet, and, without efficiency on shore in supplying its numerous and complicated needs, the requirements of the public service cannot be efficiently carried out - a fact well illustrated in Burrows's "Life of Lord Hawke," where we read that "the beer brewed at Plymouth is so bad . . . Our daily employment is condemning of it." Yet the difficulties in preparing the work have been great and manifold.

An accurate knowledge of the subject would seem to be of much importance to the Naval Service, to politicians, and to the press; but while our system of Naval Administration has been the subject of attack, and much that is known to the public concerning it has been learned from its assailants, I was confronted by the fact that no work explanatory of the system has ever been written. There have thus been encountered such difficulties as often beset the path of the pioneer.

In the next place very great difficulties arose from the inherent complexity of the subject. The character and constitutional position of the Admiralty, its development from earlier conditions, the growth of the Civil branches to more than semi-independence, the subjection of these to the true interests of the Service, the reforms entered upon by Lord St. Vincent, and brought to practical result by Sir James Graham thirty years later, and finally the vast extent and character of the work carried on by the Civil Departments - all these matters made the work of elucidation no light task. If the volume that results, should conduce to a truer conception of the character and working of the Admiralty Board, and to an even better understanding between the Department ashore and the Service afloat, it will answer a good purpose.

The volume is not a defence of the Admiralty. On the contrary, the reader will discover that I do not consider as perfect all the generally well ordered machinery by which the Admiralty carries on its work. But I have been led to the conclusion that much of the criticism of Admiralty methods which has been offered concerns rather the administrative acts of individuals, and that the system itself embodies high advantages, such as are possessed by no other department of the State. They are merits that have won the admiration of the Royal Commission on Civil Establishments, and generally of the Hartington Commission, and of many statesmen. In the earlier portion of the book, and particularly in that upon the Admiralty Patent, some matters that have led to wide misapprehension of the character, constitution, and forms of the Admiralty are elucidated.

And now I have the pleasing duty of offering my most grateful thanks to all who have assisted me in this volume, for help without which it would have indeed been a far heavier labour than it proved. To Commander Robinson's excellent work, "The British Fleet," I am much indebted, as also to his literary experience for most useful hints as to the best method of procedure.

But it is to Mr. John Leyland that I am the most deeply indebted. He has helped me throughout the work, and has paid special attention to the historical and constitutional aspects of Naval Administration. There are some parts I could not have written without his assistance, so cheerfully rendered. I am glad of the opportunity of doing justice to his zeal and energy.

For myself, I have learnt more of the interior working of the Admiralty by the compilation of this volume than I did in five years at the Admiralty, where the work in one's own department is more than sufficient for the day.


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