§ —On reading the order of the day for going into committee on the ordnance estimates.
§ Captain Boldero
rose to draw the attention of the Master-general to the state of discipline at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He said that there had been various rumours circulated in naval and military circles that Government had ventured to make the patronage of this school subservient to party purposes. These reports, however, he believed to be unfounded. But there were other statements current respecting the discipline of that academy which deserved their attention. It appeared that the superintending authorities had thought it necessary in the course of the last season to remove no less than sixteen or seventeen cadets from that establishment. In former times that number was not removed in many years, and he feared that some of those dismissals had taken place on such light grounds as idleness, or boyish mischief. It should be recollected that such expulsions acted as complete barriers to admittance into the army and navy, and also to the service of the East India Company; most serious drawbacks to the advancement in life of a youth whose only error had been negligence of study, wildness, or thoughtlessness. He heartily hoped that no pupil had been expelled from the Royal Academy whose moral conduct had not been found tainted and stained with some criminality which called for such decisive marks of reprobation. In one case three of the pupils had combined to test the courage of a comrade. In pursuance of the joke, they got up a pretended quarrel, and charged a pistol with gunpowder, and a piece of sponge saturated with blood. The event was highly favourable to the character of the youth who was thus placed on his trial, and though 1277 some unexpected injuries took place, and it deserved some kind of punishment, it certainly was not an affair that called for such a serious and disgraceful mode of repression. During the war pupils were admitted at the age of fourteen; but now they were not allowed to enter till fifteen, although he had never heard that any practical inconvenience resulted from the rule of entrance adopted during that very trying and important period. He had made this suggestion because, having been educated at this establishment himself, he knew the worth of it; and he appealed to the distinguished general officer opposite whether he should not exercise the prerogative entrusted to him by restoring some of these young gentlemen, whose conduct had not been tainted by the exhibition of bad and vicious principles, so as to give them the opportunity of regaining the good opinion of the Lieutenant-governor, becoming studious and steady, and ultimately proving, as many of them might, an honour to their profession. He took up the subject warmly, because in that establishment he had commenced his career, and had there formed friendships of the most binding nature. He had made these remarks in no spirit of hostility to the gallant Officer opposite; but, in the name of the friends and parents of the young men, who had already, he thought, suffered punishment adequate to the offences of which they had been guilty.
Sir Hussey Vivian
was not surprised at the anxiety evinced by the hon. and gallant Officer opposite on behalf of the institution to which he had alluded. That House, perhaps, was not the proper arena in which the discipline of the academy should be discussed; but at the same time he was obliged to his hon. and gallant Friend for having brought forward the subject, inasmuch as it afforded an opportunity for contradicting the many unfounded, or as they might almost be called libellous statements that had gone forth to the public. With respect to the occurrences that had taken place, the facts were simply these. For a number of years there had existed at the academy a system equivalent to what was called "fagging" at public schools, and it had been reported to him, that under that system some of the younger boys had been much oppressed. Last year, when he was engaged in the north of England in the performance of his duties, he received information that 1278 one of the youths of the academy had been much ill-treated; and the following day a second report reached him that two of the boys had deserted and gone to France. Being unable to be present in person on the spot, he appointed a committee, consisting of five most distinguished officers of the corps, and directed that the whole matter should be thoroughly investigated. He held in his hand an abstract from that report; but, before he read it, he might observe that Lord Blomfield—a man distinguished alike for his integrity and his humanity—presided over that inquiry. He would not, of course, read the names of those who had been expelled; but he would simply state what were the crimes for which the committee had felt themselves compelled to recommend their removal from the academy. No. 1 was for striking another cadet, for leaving the hospital without orders, and for general insubordination. Nos. 2 and 3 for desertion. No. 4 for abuse of his authority as a corporal. This had been one of the best conducted youths in the establishment, and he was shortly afterwards restored. No. 5 for ill-treating another cadet. Nos. 6 and 7 for insulting other cadets, and being engaged in the mock duel that had been alluded to. He would not go into the circumstances attending that duel; but he could assure his hon. and gallant Friend that the, committee had no alternative than that of acting as they did. No. 8 was for being concerned in the said mock duel. Nos. 9, 10, and 11, for ill treating other cadets; and No. 12 for repeated insubordination. Out of those twelve one had been restored. Then there were two or three others for various acts of insubordination, and there was another for intoxication during hours of study. Such were the crimes for which these youths had been discharged. He believed that, upon the whole, nothing had occurred which had not frequently taken place in other public establishments. There had been an instance before in which thirteen cadets were dismissed. These things often happened at our colleges and universities, and at public institutions of the same kind abroad, and they were likely to happen where youths were congregated together. He hoped that all who knew him would do him the justice to believe that it gave him the greatest pain to be obliged to have recourse to such a measure. Much in these unpleasant transactions had 1279 arisen from a determination on the part of the elder students to resist his wish of putting down the ill treatment experienced by the younger students from the system of fagging; and his hon. Friend would perceive that the dismissal of the greater part was occasioned by such ill treatment. As to the period at which the youths were admitted the fact was this:—On looking back to the reports of the academy, he found that whilst they were admitted at the age of fourteen, nearly one-half of them never passed up to their commission. At that early age sufficient time had not been afforded to them to acquire those rudiments of education which were essential to their subsequent success in the military college. This being found to be very generally the case, one of the members of the committee, Sir Alexander Dickson, an officer, the soundness of whose judgment he was sure no Gentleman in that House would question, recommended that the qualification for admission to the academy should be higher, and that the age of the youths upon their admission should not be less than fifteen years. This arrangement had been attended with the most complete success; for the heads of the college, instead of being called upon to discharge a considerable number of youths upon their probationary examination, during the last two years had scarcely been, called upon to discharge one. The gallant Member had referred to the statements—the calumnious, the libellous, the utterly false and unfounded statements—that had been made in some of the newspapers with respect to himself, and to the manner in which he had distributed the patronage of the Military College. He had been charged with prostituting the patronage of the academy to personal and political purposes, because he had admitted one youth named O'Connell, and another named Maude. It was said, that he appointed the one at the dictation of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, and the other at the dictation of two Tory uncles. Now, what was the fact? With respect to the youth named Maude, he was one of the young gentlemen whom he had just now stated he had felt it his duty to remove from the academy. He did so with very great regret, for the youth was a remarkably fine young man, and possessed many qualifications which seemed to fit him admirably for the profession in which he had embarked. His 1280 offence was that of having deliberately struck a younger comrade in such a way as to render it necessary that he should be sent to the hospital. When the circumstances under which this offence was committed were made known to him, he immediately ordered that Maud should be removed from the academy. Great interest was made to procure his restoration. Applications poured in from many quarters, which it was most painful to refuse, but he steadily resisted them all. He refused the application not only of the youth's Whig uncle, but of his Tory uncle, Lord Hawarden, an old and cherished friend of his. He refused an application from the highest authority in the Government. He refused other applications that were made from other parties. He would not consent to restore the youth until after the vacation, when a petition to this effect was presented to him from the cadets of the academy:—The hon. and gallant Officer read the petition, in which the young gentlemen stated that they humbly submitted to the decision that the Master-general had made upon the report laid before him by the court of inquiry, and pledged themselves collectively and individually to use their utmost endeavours to put an end to the system of severity towards the junior members of the establishment, which had been so strongly marked by the Master-general's disapprobation. They then went on to express a hope that it would not be deemed unbecoming in them if, considering the previous general good conduct of Corporal Maude, the rapidity with which he had advanced in his studies, and the utter ruin to his prospects that would otherwise befal—they begged the Master-general kindly to mitigate his punishment, and restore him to the station he had previously held amongst them. This was signed by every cadet in the academy. He immediately went down to Woolwich and assembled the whole of them, and told them that although in a military point of view, they had acted improperly in addressing him upon such a subject, he would look over that point—would accept the pledge they had offered him—and would restore the youth in whose favour they had so strongly interested themselves. Thus had he yielded to the compassion of the young man's comrades all that he had refused to the entreaties of his own personal and political friends. So much, 1281 then, for the motives that had governed him in that instance. The youth named O'Connell was the son of a very distinguished general officer, who, he believed, was a relative of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. But he did not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Dublin was aware that the youth, the son of his relative, was a cadet in the Woolwich academy. General O'Connell was now commanding in Australia, and it was at the earnest request of the father that he had placed this youth in the academy. Unfortunately he was found wanting at his probationary examination, and in consequence dismissed. He held in his hand a letter which he had subsequently received from the youth explaining the cause of his failure and asking to be permitted to make another trial. It was to this effect:—I trust you will not be offended at ray addressing you by letter on this occasion; when you consider the utter ruin to my prospects in life which must ensue from ray discharge, and the pain that will be inflicted on my father and family, who are now all in New South Wales. I trust you will not be offended at the son of an old and distinguished soldier throwing himself thus on your kindness, good nature, and mercy.After the receipt of this letter, he (Sir H. Vivian) inquired into the case, and found that the young man's failure had in a great degree been owing to the want of a proper education previous to his being admitted to the academy. He therefore consented to restore him; and in so doing he did not know how he could have exposed himself to the charges that had been brought against him. Having thus explained the state of the academy, and the circumstances that had recently transpired there, he should now feel it necessary to trouble the House with a very few observations in reference to other charges that had been made against him, in some of the public newspapers, and which had been quoted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman by whom this subject was introduced. The first to which he begged to refer was to the purport,The primary cause of the mischief at the academy is, that that establishment has been made an arena for political jobs." Again, "The children of political partisans have been admitted at the expense of the children of old and meritorious officers." "We should like to know how many of the children of families resident in the counties of Devonshire and 1282 Cornwall, particularly, have been admitted within the last three years, and what their conduct has been since they have been there. We are assured that a great proportion of the excesses that have taken place have been committed by the sons of civilians who have received appointments for no other reason in the world than that their parents were amongst the supporters of the Government, and of the Master General of the Ordnance in particular.Now, with respect to political objects and to the admission of the children of political friends into the academy, he had not the slightest hesitation in saying, that whenever any of his Friends around had applied to him to admit a son into the college, and he had had the means of complying with their request, he had always felt the greatest pleasure in doing so, and he would do so again; but at the same time he must observe, that whenever any of the hon. Gentlemen opposite had made a similar application, and the means were in his power, he had always done the same thing. He had always held that admission into the military schools should on no account depend on politics; and if such a rule were ever to obtain, he should hold it to be a very great misfortune to the country. Although the parents might differ in that and in the other House of Parliament he saw no reason why the children should not go forth together to fight the battles of their country. Therefore if, whilst he had held the office of Master-General, it had been his fortune to appoint a Shaw, a Jocelyn, and an O'Connell, he should be happy to find the children of those politically hostile families going forth together to man the same battery, to stand in the same breach, to gather glory in the same field; and he should feel that in appointing them he had done that which might effect much good for his country, and certainly, according to his notions, would do no harm to his party. He must now beg to say a word or two in reference to the allegation of his having used the patronage of the academy for personal purposes. It was asked how many youths from Cornwall had been appointed within the last few years? In reply to the question, he could state that since he had been at the head of the Ordnance, not more than five youths had been admitted who could be said to have had any connection whatever with Cornwall. Of these the first was admitted upon the application of a very distinguished 1283 officer who had been severely wounded in the service, who was living at Falmouth, but with whom he-had no personal acquaintance. On receiving his letter, he sent it to Lord F. Somerset to inquire whether the statements of service which it contained were correct. The reply was in the affirmative, and the youth was in consequence appointed. The second youth was also the son of a distinguished officer. The third was certainly the son of a particular friend of his, once a Member of that House; but since long resident abroad, and one who certainly had never voted for him. The fourth was the son of a clergyman living in a parish where he (Sir H. Vivian) had property; but who was decidedly opposed to him in politics, and who, at the election, had plumped against him. The fifth was the son of a gentleman living in the western division of the county. So much, then, for the prodigal manner in which he had granted admissions to the academy to his Cornish friends. [The right hon. and gallant officer was proceeding with some further explanations, but was deterred by a general expression of feelings on both sides of the House, indicating that it was wholly unnecessary]. He would proceed, then, to another point. With respect to the children of old officers, the regular rule, or rather the general custom, had been to admit them into the different military seminaries in the proportion of about one-half of the whole number admitted. To cover the expenses of the academies, which were considerable, it was found necessary to admit the sons of civilians, who paid in a much higher proportion than the sons of old officers. Of the 141 young men that had been admitted within the last three years, 78 were the sons of old officers, being, he believed, a much greater proportion in favour of the latter than had ever occurred at any former period. He trusted that this simple statement would exonerate him from the charge that had been brought against him of having used his patronage for personal motives. Another charge had been made in the same paper, to which he wished to advert. (The hon. and gallant Member read another extract from a newspaper, which stated that the Master-General was actuated by the vilest party spirit; and, as an instance of it, related that he had taken out of the hands of a Colonel-Commandant, who was opposed to him, the disposal of a subordinate 1284 office.) When he had first read that passage he could not imagine to what it referred; and accordingly he wrote to Lord Bloomfield on the subject. The answer which he received from Lord Bloomfield was to the effect that he had looked into the correspondence between them, and it did not appear that Sir Hussey Vivian had in any manner interfered with the privileges of commanding officers. He, however, made further inquiry, and found that the paragraph referred to a case in which the Colonel Commandant had wished to promote a young man over the head of one of the most distinguished old soldiers. That case had been represented to him by Sir A. Dickson, to whom he wrote a letter in reply, in which he stated that though Colonels Commandant had never found any unnecessary interference on his part, as he had never permitted such a system to be practised in the disposal of the superior offices, he should not allow it with regard to subordinate offices. He was sorry that he had trespassed on the House so long upon a matter personal to himself, but as it was of some consequence to this establishment and to himself also, he hoped the House would pardon him for it, and would think that he had exonerated himself from the vile and abominable charges which had been made. In conclusion the right hon. and gallant officer said that with respect to the re-admission of any of the youths who had been dismissed, nothing would give him greater pleasure if he could do so consistently with the rules of the establishment. He had paid great attention to the subject, and had referred the matter to the consideration of the committee. His present impression was, that he could not restore any of them; but he still kept his eye upon them, and very much of what might ultimately happen must depend upon the conduct of the youths now in the academy. If, however, he should be induced to restore any of them, it could only be those who had been conspicuous for uniform good conduct prior to the occurrence of these unfortunate circumstances.
Sir H. Vivian
said, he had not the return by him at present, but he thought about twenty-five or thirty in the present year. There were 128 then at the academy, and 1285 also a great number of second lieutenants.
§ Mr. Goulburn
had no connexion with the army, therefore if he said anything on the subject it would not be to enter into military details. He could not, however, avoid thinking that there must have been something seriously wrong in the management of this institution, which rendered it necessary to resort to so severe a measure as the dismissal of no less than twenty five youths of sixteen years of age. He felt sure that the gallant Officer had acted only under a sense of duty—that much of the necessity of such a measure must depend upon the age of the parties implicated in these transactions. If they were of an age at which they might be easily led astray, he could not help thinking that expulsion, carrying with it, as it did, such serious consequences, was more than the necessity of the case required. If, on the other hand, they were of an age capable of appreciating the consequences of their conduct, then, however painful it might be, he could not deny the punishment was unnecessarily severe; but what he wished to urge upon the right hon. and gallant Officer was, that constant watchfulness over the institution would prevent those evils getting to that height, that to prevent them it was necessary to resort to such severe measures of punishment. He could not but think if care were taken, and the progress of these young men watched, and they received moderate punishment for the first offence, the necessity would be avoided of recurring to extreme punishment, which not only affected them immediately, but all their prospects in life.
Sir H. Vivian
said, thirteen youths were expelled a great number of years ago, when a most distinguished officer was at the head of the Ordnance. The youths now removed were of the Senior Class, and for the oppression of the Juniors; and it was a curious fact, that during the time the committee was sitting, a great degree of oppression was going on, and there seemed a sort of determination among the youths to continue it, and that four who were excluded had committed the offence while the committee was sitting.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
, as an officer, felt bound to state his acquiescence in the measure resorted to in the case of these young men. Most of them were fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years of age, and persisted in their misconduct, and he did 1286 not see anything his hon. Friend could propose, but place the circumstances before a committee, and take their report into consideration; and he must say, if he were in the situation of his right hon. Friend, he should think nothing would be more embarrassing hereafter, and fatal to the discipline of the college, than to attend to applications for the restoration of these youths, unless under special circumstances. No doubt the college was composed of ardent spirits—of young men who required a severe discipline; and when they knew their misconduct would be visited with severe discipline, it was to be hoped they would reflect upon the consequences that would attend it. He must confess, at the same lime, the explanation of his right hon. Friend gave him great pain; considering the character of his right hon. Friend, and the long time he had served in the military service, he had heard him with great pain condescend in that House to enter into details to defend himself from anonymous attacks of the newspapers. Why, if public men thought themselves compelled to come to the House and give explanations on every attack that was made on them in newspapers and anonymous publications, not only would the time of the House be wasted, but, in his opinion, men of high station would be materially lowered. He did not know what papers they were to which his hon. Friend referred, for he had never heard of or read one of them. He should not oppose going into committee, but was sorry that his right hon. Friend had made these explanations, which, in his opinion, his high character rendered quite unnecessary.
said, that the right hon. Master-general of the Ordnance having been attacked in the manner in which he had been, had no alternative but to adopt the course which he had adopted in defending himself. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had stated, that, in his opinion, there must have been great relaxation of the discipline of the Academy to render these punishments necessary. Now, he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman, whether it might not be barely possible that such relaxation of discipline may have taken place before his right hon. and gallant Friend had come into office.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
said, that the hon. and gallant Officer had made no attack whatever upon the right hon. and gallant 1287 Gentleman opposite. He complained that the House should have entered into the consideration of this subject at all. He complained not of what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had done out of the House, but of what he had done in the House in making these explanations. He could never approve of making that House a board of review for the proceedings of the Royal Military Academy. He knew that some hon. Gentleman might say, that because the Academy was supported at the expense of the State, that therefore; the House had a right not only to inquire into the general management of it, but to institute an inquiry into any petty detail connected with each individual student. Unless such was the conclusion come to, he trusted that never again would one whole hour of the time of that House be occupied in such a discussion.
§ Mr. Warburton
thought his right hon. Friend, the Master-general of the Ordnance had acted perfectly right. He had in fact, no option. There was nothing uncourteous in the observations of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, but he had read certain statements from newspapers reflecting on his right hon. and gallant Friend, and had asked for explanation. It was a price that all men who attained to eminent rank or high station must pay for their eminence to have their conduct canvassed, and when it was so canvassed they were perfectly right in offering any explanation they might think fit; there was nothing humiliating in such conduct. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite' had considered that there was something in the conduct of the Military Academy which required explanation—he was perfectly right in requesting that explanation. He had very properly asked a question, to which he had received a most satisfactory answer.
§ Sir De Lacy Evans
entirely concurred with his hon. Friend who had just sat down. He had listened to the reply of his right hon. and gallant Friend with the greatest satisfaction, and although the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite had not made any charges against his right hon. and gallant Friend in bringing this: question forward, yet that hon. and gallant Gentleman had alluded to certain charges which had been made in the newspapers, therefore his right hon. and gallant Friend was perfectly right in replying to these charges. He entirely concurred with the 1288 right hon. and gallant Member for Launceston in the conviction that the high character of the Master-general of the Ordnance placed him entirely above imputation, but still that very high character made him the more anxious to give explanation, and feel the more acutely any imputation that might be attempted to be cast upon him. The knowledge of the possession of that high character made him the more anxious to sustain it.—He concurred in the observations which had been made on the subject of the College, and regretted that it had been introduced at all, as he was sure that the present discussion would not tend to the preservation of the good discipline of the College. Among those young men who were intended for the military service, it might be expected, anywhere, that youth would be found of strong feelings and active energetic minds, who would with difficulty submit themselves to command. He had, a short time ago, seen an account of the expulsion of several students from Eton College—that was not a military college, and, from what he had heard on the subject, he was not disposed to find fault with the conduct of the head of that establishment on that occasion, but he thought the House would admit that if it was necessary to maintain strict discipline in any college, it was more particularly so in a military one. If a strict discipline were not maintained among the youths when at college, the consequences to themselves, when they entered their military career, would be still more ruinous, as they would be subjected for breaches of discipline to a still more severe punishment, and which would affect their future prospects still more severely, as coming upon them at a later period of their life, when it would be almost impossible for them so to change their habits as to fit them for entering any other career.
§ Captain Boldero
had not made any attack upon the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, or brought any charge against him; he had merely asked for an explanation, and he thought he was perfectly justified in so doing—he was glad to find, from what he had said, that the academy was now in a better state of discipline, and he hoped that the discipline would continue to be such as would enable the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, consistently with his duty, to consent to the restoration of at least some of these young men.—Subject dropped.