* The Mid-Victorian Royal Navy * William Loney R.N. * Fun * * Search this site * 
Edward James Reed

The Royal Navy Other non-sea officer biographies

    
Edward James Reed 
Son of John Reed (1787-1854)
 
Date (from)(Date to)Event
20 September 1830 Born (Sheerness)
1851 Married Rosetta (1830-1921), daughter of Nathaniel Barnaby (1805-1883) and sister of the Nathaniel Barnaby (1829-1915) who subsequently succeeded Reed as Chief Constructor
1852 Graduated from the Central School of Mathematics and Naval Architecture at Portsmouth, and appointed supernumerary draughtsman in the mould loft at Sheerness
9 July 18638 July 1870Chief constructor of the Royal Navy (until he resigned following the vituperative arguments concerning the Captain, and other technical issues)
1868 C.B. (Companion of the Bath)
1868 Wrote Shipbuilding in Iron and Steel
1869 Wrote Our Ironclad Ships (Review in The Times newspaper)
12 February 18747 April 1880M.P. (Liberal) for Pembroke
1876 (F.R.S.) Fellow of the Royal Society
7 April 188018 July 1895M.P. (Liberal) for Cardiff
14 August 1880 K.C.B. (Knight Commander of the Bath)
1884 Wrote Treatise on the stability of ships
13 February 18869 August 1886Lord of the Treasury in Gladstone's 3rd ministry
10 October 190017 January 1906M.P. (Liberal) for Cardiff
March 1905 Joined Liberal Unionists
30 November 1906 Died (London)
Obituary in the Times newspaper
Extracts from the Times newspaper
DateExtract
Ma 11 July 1870The sequel, if not the consequence, of the drama which has recently been acted at the Admiralty is announced in one of our columns to-day in the final resignation of the Chief Constructor of the Navy. So much had been said and rumoured in reference to this resignation that the uninitiated were a little surprised, a fortnight ago, at the statement of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons that the Government had no reason to suppose that Mr. Reed was about to resign. Mr. Reed has resigned, his resignation has been accepted, and the reason of his resignation is not dissatisfaction with the Admiralty, but a natural desire to better his fortunes by joining Sir Joseph WhitworthExternal link, the value of whose ordnance and new metal for the public service he has ably, though unsuccessful, advocated. We wish both Mr. Reed and Sir Joseph Whitworth prosperity and contentment in the prosecution of their joint enterprise. Sir Joseph could have no fitter man to popularize and develop the commercial value of the Whitworth metal, and the adhesion of Mr. Reed will have its effect on foreign Governments, if not upon our own, in testifying to the value for naval purposes of the Whitworth system of ordnance. If Sir Joseph and Mr. Reed will only build a fast corvette and arm her with Whitworth guns of the largest size, they will do more to solve the question of naval artillery than years of thankless waiting on the public departments will ever be likely to effect. One real experiment is worth a generation of pamphleteering, and if the Whitworth Company have a ship constructed with guns that can pierce the strongest ironclad, whether below the waterline or with oblique firing above it, they may be sure they will find a purchaser on the Continent if not at home.
Such is the finale, and such, we believe, the explanation, of the memorable dissension within the precincts of the Admiralty to which a fortnight ago we ventured to call attention. Achilles has returned from his tent. Sir Spencer Robinson is still Controller of the Navy; and the touching adherence to his immediate chief in the moment of adversity which was then displayed by Mr. Reed may, probably, be partly ascribed to the fact that better fortunes awaited him outside the Admiralty. We believe that the popular impression that the two officials were confederate in their threatened resignation may be reconciled with the official ignorance of Mr. Gladstone on the subject by the statement that Mr. Reed did not formally resign on that occasion, but only authorized Six Spencer Robinson, to say that if he were compelled to retire Mr. Reed would retire too. Such are the niceties of resignation and the distinctions on the subject which occur to an official. mind. Sir Spencer Robinson's demand was not conceded, but he thought better of it, and did not retire. Mr. Reed thought better of it, and did. How melancholy it is when one of the few illusions of later life is thus rudely dispelled. Here, we almost thought, is another instance of those classical friendships which for their rarity become immortalized. It was impossible not to recur in mind to the old lament on Saul and JonathanExternal link, who in their lives were lovely and pleasant, and were not divided at the end. But the days of chivalry are gone. The union of the Controller and the Chief Constructor was only a union in mutiny against their common chief, and we think Mr. Childers may be congratulated on having in future only one, instead of two such difficult subordinates to manage. The privilege which was claimed on that occasion by Sir Spencer Robinson was one entirely personal. Service at the Admiralty had never before the Order of 1861 counted as service for any rank, and no future Controller would ever have possessed the special immunity which Sir Spencer claimed to retain for himself.
We may pass, however, from these personal considerations, which have only a secondary interest for the public, and briefly review the important part which Mr. Reed has played in the public service. It is not too much to say that he has given to the office of Chief Constructor of the Navy an importance as well as a notoriety which it never before possessed. He has, in a department overridden with the traditions of the service and overpeopled with naval officers unaccustomed to scientific or civil affairs, but accustomed to quick decision and implicit obedience, asserted, and for the time established, the ascendency of civilian intelligence in all matters that are especially within the domain of civilian experience and training. The defects of Admiralty administration have always been due to the interference of naval officers in the management of civil affairs. The chief aim of professional training in the British Navy is to make an officer self-reliant and absolute in discipline, with which object it separates its cadets from civil life at the early age of 12 or 13, and sets them apart as a distinct class from the general education of the country. It is thought that in this we gain, for professional purposes, far more than we lose, as compared with the other maritime Powers, which defer till a much later age the commencement of the naval career. But it is obvious that for civil administration in after life the absence of early civil training must be widely felt, and it is to the credit of Mr. Reed that, without any other assistance than the force of his own intelligence, he has generally been able to hold his own against the professional influences and prejudices at the Admiralty which have constantly been arrayed against him.
We do not, at such a time as this, propose to analyze minutely his success or failure in the department of shipbuilding over which he has presided. If many of his early ships were failures, he is entitled to have it remembered that they were built in the infancy of ironclads, and that his aim to produce short ships which should do the work of long ships was a good one, but only practicable within limits which were not at once attained. He has, with the assistance of able subordinates whom he introduced into the department, largely improved the internal construction of armour-bearing vessels for strength and stowage and capacity of carrying armour. He has been far in advance of the naval advisers of the Admiralty in all matters connected with naval ordnance. It is owing to him that the guns of 9-inch, 10-inch, and 11-inch calibre with which our latest ships are armed have been mounted in those vessels, and we believe it is no secret that one reason of his readiness to be allured from the public service has been the opposition he has encountered in still further developing and improving the ordnance of our ships of war. If in so difficult a struggle he has at times been impatient of opposition, intolerant of criticism, jealous of rivalry, or even too much inclined to self-assertion, great allowances should be made for the position in which he was placed and the natural failings of a strong character. Mr. Reed has often been wrong. In his heated advocacy of broadsides against turrets, and his depreciation of low free-board for sea-going cruisers, he has manifested too strongly for the public interests a personal antagonism to Captain Cowper Coles, and time has pronounced upon these two questions in favour of Captain Coles and adversely to Mr. Reed. if these two inventors, who were each designed to supplement the other's deficiencies, could only have been brought to work together harmoniously in the public service, it is no injustice to declare that, formidable as is our Navy at the present time, it would have been more formidable still. That this happy result has not been attained is not the fault of Captain Coles alone. But, whatever the shortcomings of Mr. Reed many have been, it is due to him to state that he has left his mark upon the public service, and that in many ways his loss will be felt. As good, or even better ships may be built than those which under his auspices have been added to the British Navy. but in the Controller's Department as well as in his own it will be hard to find a man with the same capacity for varied work, the same power of civil organization, and anything approaching to the skilful advocacy with which he was at all times ready to extol the successes and hide or extenuate the blunders and failures of the Admiralty.
Top  

Valid HTML 5.0