Admiralty Attitude towards Gunnery - Uselessness of Inspection - A typical Report of the Period - Course of Instruction on H.M.S. Excellent - Mud Island - Convict Labour - A Scheme of Drainage - Gunnery Lieutenant of H.M.S. Inconstant - A Training Squadron - Masts and Sails - The Young Princes as Midshipmen - The Boer War takes us to the Cape - Voyage to Australia - Parting with the Bacchante - Invention of an Electrical Range Transmitter - How the Admiralty regarded it - Back in Simon's Bay - A Fire on Board - Putting out the Flames in a Diver's Dress.

THE gunnery of these days was deplorable, and had been so for half a century. In the American War of 1812-14, as a humiliating chapter in our naval history records, we lost ship after ship owing to the failure to practise our officers and men in the use of their guns. One fine sailor, Captain Broke, of the Shannon, taught his men to shoot by putting over targets two or three times a week and practising firing at them both with cannon and small arms. He subsequently inflicted on the Americans their first defeat ; it was by sheer good shooting that the Shannon beat the Chesapeake.

This demonstration of what good gunnery could achieve ought to have brought about an immediate reform, but it was not until fifteen years after the end of the war that the first real step was taken




to educate the officers and men in using their guns. In 1830, the Commissioners of the Admiralty decided tentatively to allow H.M.S. Excellent, an old 74-gun line of battleship at Portsmouth, to be used as a school for instruction in artillery. From 1830 to this date the Gunnery School at Portsmouth has rendered yeoman service to the country by endeavouring, against great opposition, to improve the shooting of H.M. ships of war. In the Navy, at the time I am speaking of, a knowledge of gunnery was looked upon merely as an adjunct to, and not as a necessary part of, an officer's education. Those who knew nothing of gunnery, and even boasted of the fact, laid the flattering unction to their souls that they were practical seamen. Gunnery officers were laughed at as mere pedants and coiners of long words. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Edward Seymour, in talking of the Navy in 1852, says, "In those days the chief things required in a man-of-war were smart men aloft, cleanliness of the ship, the men's bedding and her boats. Her gunnery was quite a secondary thing." 1

This view of what was needed in a man-of-war survived in the Navy for half a century after the date referred to by Sir Edward Seymour. For many years the all-important event in each year of a ship's commission was her inspection by the Admiral, for if the ship was not clean, the Captain would be superseded and the Executive Officer would not be promoted. Gunnery did not matter. The inspection report that went to the Admiralty

1 "My Naval Career and Travels," Sir E. H. Seymour, Admiral of the Fleet : "The State of Gunnery."



was in the form of a printed set of questions which the Admiral had to answer, but it abstained from all allusion to the state of efficiency or otherwise of the ship in target practice with her guns. Questions on this subject were not added to the report until the year 1903.

Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge, in his book " Some Recollections" (published in 1918), describes his ship, the Pelorus, in 1857, as one of the first vessels of the Navy to possess a gun-sight, and added that it was then considered an epoch-making improvement in naval gunnery. He tells us, further, that the gun-mountings in H.M.S. Pelorus were of a pattern practically identical with those used in Queen Elizabeth's ships, and that the type survived in the Navy for twenty years afterwards. This pattern of mounting was in use when I joined the Navy. It had a life of about four centuries, but Sir Cyprian warns us that we must not infer from this that the Admiralty were backward in introducing improvements in ships' armaments - although I point out in this volume that the Admiralty in my time have been, and still are, very backward in this respect. I cannot contradict Sir Cyprian Bridge as to the attitude of the Admiralty in 1857, but four hundred years for one pattern of gun-mounting appears a long time ! It looks rather like our clinging to masts and yards forty years after they ought to have been abolished !

Sir Cyprian suggests that the stories which have been current of late years as to the want of attention to gunnery in the older Navy were unworthy fabrications. That statement hits me rather hard, because I have so frequently asserted



the contrary, but in doing so I only took into consideration my own fifty years' experience in the Navy. This is the only mention that Sir Cyprian makes of gunnery. His "Recollections," like those of most of his contemporaries, consist largely of descriptions, interesting descriptions, of the places visited.

After an inspection in my early years it was customary with many Admirals to send the Captain of the ship a memorandum containing the gist of the report dispatched to the Admiralty. If the Admiral's memo, was unfavourable, it went into the waste-paper basket ; if favourable, copies of it were made and circulated in the ship, and sometimes they got into the Press. Here is one copied from the Naval and Military Record of September, 1902.

"H.M.S. Glory, Wei-Hai-Wei,
3rd of September, 1901.

" I have made the following remarks in the report of the inspection of H.M.S. Astræa under your command :

" ' Ship's company of good physique, remarkably clean and well dressed ; state of bedding, specially satisfactory.

" ' The stoker division formed a fine body of clean and well-dressed men.

" ' At exercise the men moved very smartly.

" ' The ship looks well inside and out, and is very clean throughout. Her state is very creditable to the Executive Officer, Sir Douglas Brownrigg.

" < The tone of the ship generally seems to me to be distinctly good.



"'Appearance of the Engine Rooms and their appendages was very good.'
" (Signed) , ---------

This was a typical inspection of the period. It contained no reference to the fact that the Astræa was one of the best shooting ships in the Navy, nor did her captain and gunnery lieutenant get one word of praise for all the trouble they had taken to make the ship efficient as a fighting unit of the Fleet. It was only her success in tailoring and housemaiding and the state of the bedding that secured commendation. No wonder that the captains and gunnery officers of ships came to the conclusion that they must devote their time and attention to the appearance of ships and not to battle-worthiness.

I have referred to this inspection report to show how conservative the Navy was. Forty-nine years had not changed what Sir Edward Seymour says were the ideas in 1852 ; the cleanliness of the ship and the state of the men's bedding were still regarded as the most important factors of efficiency.

In 1878 I joined H.M.S. Excellent to qualify as a Gunnery Lieutenant. She was an old three-decker, very badly found as regards the necessary equipment for instruction in gunnery, so much so that a lecture there on some particular weapon generally concluded with the remark - "but this is obsolete, and we have not got the new one to show you." In those days a lieutenant qualified in gunnery was an important asset in a man-of- war. He was the only officer in the ship who



knew anything about gunnery, and in an action he would have had a great responsibility.

Our course of instruction was divided into two parts - practical and theoretical. The former consisted of learning how to load and fire the guns and how to train the men, and was also concerned with powder and ammunition and projectiles. The theoretical part embraced differential and integral calculus, conic sections, algebra, chemistry, physics, and a few other subjects with long names. It was obvious that the practical part should have been taken first as, in the event of war breaking out, we thirty lieutenants could have been sent to sea with sufficient practical knowledge to manipulate the artillery. Our instructor, a most brilliant lieutenant named Tyne Ford Hammill, informed us that, although it was wrong, we had to do the theoretical course first. With a twinkle in his eye, he explained that the defect had been pointed out, and that it would be changed, but as the authorities did not move very quickly in gunnery matters it would take time. He was quite correct. The system was changed, but not till twenty-six years afterwards.

The officers of H.M.S. Excellent took a great interest in target practice ; it was carried out from old gunboats, which were light and consequently rolled a great deal. This made the practice very difficult, and I think I can show that in those days a good shot had to be born, he could not be made.

The man who pointed the gun and fired it stood about six feet in rear with a string in his hand which, when pulled, fired the gun. On the gun



were two pieces of metal about four feet apart, one was shaped like a V, the other like a V upside down. To hit the mark the gun-layer had to pull

the string when the V, the inverted V, and the target were all seen in one line from his eye. In order to arrive at this all three must be seen very distinctly. In other words, the eye had to see three objects ; one at six feet, one at ten feet, and the other at 3000 feet, all sharply defined. This called upon the eye to do more than any camera will do unless it is very much stopped down. The eye is a very fine optical instrument and has in certain circumstances sufficient range of focus to comply with the requirements I have mentioned ; but it will only comply with these requirements under certain conditions of the stomach and general state of health. We will call this having the eye in order No. 1 necessity for hitting the mark. The firer in those days had orders always to fire as his gun was rolling upwards ; as the roll would impart an upward movement to the shot, he had to pull the string a little before the two V's came in line with the target, but the roll varied, so the " little before " varied and he had to judge how much to allow. We will call this No. 2 necessity for hitting the mark.

Then came the forward motion of the ship from which the man was firing. This would cause the shot to go forward and miss the mark, so he had to have his V's a little behind the target when



he pulled the string. This is No. 3 necessity for hitting the mark. To acquire and put into practice correctly these three requirements appears impossible, but I have seen men place shot after shot within a foot of a small flagstaff 1000 yards distant from them. Truly the brain and eye can work together in a wonderful manner.

Of many hundreds of seamen whom we trained in shooting, one or two per cent, could do what I have mentioned. The objective of the staff officers of H.M.S. Excellent was to find some rules or means of instruction that would increase the percentage of these men, but we landed on another difficulty which quite stumped us.

A lieutenant - I wish I could remember his name - pointed out that some men for the same amount of roll fired earlier than others, but obtained the same results; in other words, that some men when they did a thing did it quicker than others.

A very clever torpedo lieutenant of H.M.S. Vernon took the matter up and declared that a certain amount of time elapsed between the man at the end of the string wishing to pull it and his actually pulling it ; he described it to me that the eye when the objects were in line telegraphed to the brain that the string was to be pulled, the brain telegraphed to the muscles of the hand to pull it, and he pointed out that these two telegraphs occupied a certain amount of time, and that this amount of time varied with different people. To prove his theory a machine was made - I think it was called the personal error machine. Captain (afterwards Lord) Fisher, in explaining it



to Queen Alexandra, called it the Foolometer, as he said it measured how much of a fool you were ; you thought you did a thing instantaneously but you did not, and this machine registered how much time elapsed between your thinking you had done a thing and your doing it. The machine was very simple, as far as my memory serves me, and it is forty years ago. The person being tested was told to pull a string when he saw the pointer move of a galvanometer which was in front of him.

What happened was as follows : An electric current was sent through the galvanometer which caused the pointer to move ; it also caused a mark to be made on a revolving cylinder. When the person being tested pulled the string, it caused a mark to be made on the cylinder. The distance between the two marks represented the time that elapsed between the eye seeing the pointer move and the hand pulling the string.

This little lecture shows that the man who pulled the string, or, as he was more commonly called, the man behind the gun, had a lot to think about.

The whole gunnery establishment consisted of two line-of-battle ships (the Excellent being connected by a bridge with the Calcutta), a very old turret ship in which we learned turret drill, some gunboats which, as I have said, took us out for target practice, and an island where we were taught infantry drill.

This island - Whale Island - which we very appropriately called "Mud Island," has had a peculiar history. In 1856 it was acquired by the Admiralty, and subsequently was used as a



dumping-ground for the mud and clay which was excavated in forming the basins and docks of Portsmouth Dockyard. One party of convicts in the dockyard were employed in digging the clay and barrowing it into railway trucks, which went by a viaduct to Whale Island, where another party of convicts emptied them. The whole island, which is now of nearly 100 acres, has therefore been twice in a wheelbarrow ; it seems almost too colossal to believe, but, as nearly 1000 convicts were working at it for about forty years, they would move a very large amount. In depositing the mud, no attempt was made to level it, or to allow it to drain itself; and consequently the whole place was a quagmire, only available for drill after a long spell of dry weather. One small portion which had been gravelled was capable of being used at any time.

Being in those days anxious to keep in training for running, I got the convicts to smooth down a track about four feet broad and a quarter of a mile round. They took great interest in it, filled up the hollows, made little drains, and planted on it every blade of grass they could secure. They even arranged with their fellow convicts in the dockyards to collect carefully any grass they could find and send it over. In a fortnight we had quite a decent track. We then sowed it with grass seed, and when it was sufficiently advanced, a party of about fifteen of us used to go up to the island at five in the morning to cut and roll it. It got on so well that we were able to have athletic sports. The success of the track suggested to me that the whole might be levelled and drained, the



Excellent done away with, and a Gunnery Establishment built on the island. The ship was rotten and would soon have had to be replaced by another ; the expense of keeping her up was enormous, and she was unsuitable in every way as a School of Gunnery. I mentioned the idea to the authorities, and they thought I had gone mad. It was considered to be the most ridiculous idea ever put forward. "He wants us to live on Mud Island" was the common chaff, and I could only retort that some day the desire of all officers would be to live on Mud Island. Events justified my prophecy, and I was destined to return to Whale Island to superintend the work of construction which was to transform the mud flats into a great naval establishment.

As to the Excellent, the one notable feature of the School of Instruction was the diligence of the officers and their zeal in striving against a sea of opposition to improve the gunnery of H.M. Navy.

Having completed the course, I served for a year as an Instructing Lieutenant, and then went to sea as Gunnery Lieutenant of H.M.S. Inconstant, flagship of the Earl of Clanwilliam. The squadron consisted of the Inconstant, Bacchante, Diamond and Topase, all fully-rigged sailing ships. Prince Albert Victor and Prince George (now King George V.) were serving as midshipmen in the Bacchante.

The particular object of the squadron was to train officers and men in the use of masts and sails, which were very shortly to disappear and really should have disappeared ten years before, since

[ Rather than the Diamond Admiral C. C. Penrose Fitzgerald has the Tourmaline - see page 80 in his memoirss. During 1881 the Diamond was undergoing a refit at Sheerness, and was unlikely to be commissioned before the end of the year. Percy Scott seems to be writing from memory and it would appear to have let him down. Transcript Ed.]



they hampered a ship in speed, and would have been a severe encumbrance in an action. They certainly afforded a fine gymnasium both for nerve and body, and inculcated thought and resourcefulness, which were most valuable to men afterwards. The sailoring sailor was not a machine. You could teach him a certain amount, but he was always having to use his brain to meet unexpected difficulties as they presented themselves.

As a boy in the training ship he was taught how to furl a sail on a jack-yard close down to the deck. He found the yard laid pointing to the wind, clewlines close up, and the sail, from constant handling, as soft as a pocket handkerchief. How easy it all was ! Then he went to sea and discovered the difference. On a dark night, with the ship rolling, he was awakened from his slumbers by a scream "Topmen of the watch in royals." In a pouring rain squall he had to feel his way aloft to a yard 130 feet above the deck. And when he and his mates got there what a contrast to the training ship jack-yard ! The sail is all aback, wet and as stiff as a board, the clewlines have fouled, and perhaps one lift has carried away. But the sail has to be furled, and they think out some way of overcoming the difficulties and furled it is. Fine training for a boy, although it cost a good many lives !

The question of doing away with the masts and sails was the theme of much discussion. Those who favoured their abolition said that as we should have no sails it was no use wasting time, money and life, in training our officers and men to use them. My gallant Captain declared that if



you wanted to make a jockey like Tod Sloan you did not train him on a camel. What the arguments were of those who wished to retain masts and yards I do not exactly remember, but they got their way, and the sinking of the Captain, Eurydice and Atalanta, with a total of about 2000 officers and men in the prime of life, failed to alter their opinion. Sails were not finally discarded until after the sloop Condor went down in a gale off Cape Flattery on 3rd December, 1901.

On the 16th October, 1880, we left Portsmouth for a cruise round the world. The programme was to visit Madeira, St. Vincent, Monte Video, and the Falkland Islands, then sail round the Horn to India, and return home by the Suez Canal. The young Princes were to see the world. We arrived at Monte Video on the 21st December, and remained there until the 8th January, the time being spent in entertainments of every description. The Uruguayans are noted for their hospitality.

Four days before we left for the Falkland Islands, a telegram was sent by the Admiralty, ordering us to proceed to the Cape of Good Hope at full speed, and to prepare our brigade for landing, as we were at war with the Boers. The gentleman on shore who received this telegram put it in his pocket and forgot to open it until after we had left, so away we went 1400 miles in a southerly direction instead of going east where we were wanted.

When at length the telegram was opened at Monte Video, a gunboat, the Swallow, was dispatched with orders to try and catch us. The



speed of the Swallow did not quite do justice to her name. We reached the Falkland Islands on the 25th January ; the Swallow arrived the following day, and our Admiral the Earl of Clanwilliam at once made a signal "Prepare for immediately. Squadron is ordered to proceed to the Cape of Good Hope with all dispatch." During our 4000 miles voyage to the Cape of twenty-two days, all preparations for landing an expeditionary force were made. The men were drilled and exercised in firing, our field guns were got ready to land, and we could have put into the field a very respectable force of about 1600 men.

On the 16th February we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and found that in December, when we were enjoying ourselves at Monte Video, the Boers had declared war upon us, and as we were, as usual, unprepared they had been successful in several engagements. In these circumstances we doubled our efforts to make our brigade efficient for landing, and hourly expected a telegram to proceed to Natal and co-operate with the forces there, for the military authorities were very short of men and our 1600 might have turned the scale. No more orders came, however, and we remained at Simon's Bay, enjoying dances and dinner parties while our troops suffered severe reverses at Laings Neck and Majuba.

By the middle of March Sir Evelyn Wood, who was in command, had sufficient troops to ensure the defeat of the Boers, but the British Government had meanwhile decided to make peace, and the task thus left incomplete had to be undertaken anew twenty years later.



After peace had been signed, we lingered on at the Cape until the 9th of April, when, to the delight of every one, we weighed anchor and departed on a 5000-mile voyage to Australia. On the 12th May we arrived off Cape Lewen, and during the night encountered some very heavy weather. In the morning H.M.S. Bacchante, with the two young Princes on board, was missing. We spread out to search, and had a very anxious three days, when fortunately we received a signal that the Bacchante had put into Albany, in Western Australia, her rudder having been disabled in the gale.

A most pleasant six weeks followed at Melbourne. Just before leaving their Royal Highnesses joined the Inconstant, as the Bacchante (which subsequently rejoined the squadron) was still under repair at Albany, and we resumed our cruise, visiting the Fiji Islands, Japan, China and Singapore.

At Singapore we said good-bye to the Bacchante with her royal midshipmen. She had been ordered home via the Suez Canal, while we were to return via the Cape. We had visited many interesting places and seen much of the world. It had been a sort of yachting cruise with endless entertainments. Professionally we had spent two years in learning how to manage a ship under sail, but I doubt if any officer or man of the squadron was ever again in a ship with sails. Our Captain, C. P. Fitzgerald, was probably the most able seaman in the Navy in regard to the management of sails. He could work the Inconstant just like a yacht ; but it would be no use mentioning some of the fine work I have



seen him perform, because no one now would understand or appreciate it.

In gunnery we were no worse than any other ship. We fired sometimes, but the difficulty at target practice was to communicate the range to the guns. To overcome this obstacle I made an electrical range transmitter, and submitted it to the Admiralty in the following letter :-

"H.M.S. Inconstant, "At Sea,
"3rd May, 1881.

" SIR,
" Having found great difficulty on board this ship in getting the distance of the target passed correctly from the masthead to the gun deck, I have the honour to submit plans of an Electrical Indicator which has been made on board this ship, and seems to answer the purpose satisfactorily.

" It consists of two dials, their faces marked in hundreds of yards ; one is placed at the masthead or wherever the officer is stationed to measure the distance, the other in the battery, the two being connected by electric wires.

"As the distance alters, the observer at the masthead moves the pointer of his dial to the new figure ; the pointer of the battery dial simultaneously makes a corresponding movement, at the same time ringing a bell.

"The arrangement is exceedingly simple, and though only roughly made on board this ship by the armourer, it works well.

" I enclose a full explanation and drawings.
" I have the honour to be, sir,
" Your obedient servant,



Fifteen months afterwards, on the 21st June, 1882, their Lordships wrote to the Admiral commanding the squadron: "You are to inform Lieutenant Percy Scott that my Lords highly appreciate the intelligence and zeal he has shown in the construction of the instrument devised by him." On my return to England, however, I found that my invention had been pirated and patented by some one else. Necessary as an instrument of this description was for accurate firing, the Admiralty did not supply it to the Service until twenty-five years afterwards. 1

In the middle of May we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and anchored in Simon's Bay, which was so familiar to me. Simon's Bay was just the same as I knew it ten years before. None of the recommendations suggested by Sir William Hewett for improving the dockyard had been carried out ; there was not a fort of any description, nor was there a dock or a railway in the place.

During our stay I went for a few days' leave to Cape Town. On my return I found the ship was on fire. At 8 p.m., a couple of hours earlier, dense volumes of smoke arose from one of the after compartments. It was found impossible to locate the fire, and all the ship's fire appliances and fire engines were engaged in pumping into the compartment, but as some of the water-tight manhole doors were off for repair the whole of the after part of the ship was being filled with water, and at the same time no apparent effect was produced on the flames. Efforts had also been made to get to

1 This is an illustration of methods of administration in 1881 ; but things are not much better to-day.



the fire by a man wearing the German smoke cap supplied by the Admiralty for that purpose, but he was nearly asphyxiated in the attempt.

Such was the situation on my return. Putting on one of the caps, I went down myself and succeeded in discovering the seat of the outbreak. But the labour of breathing in this horrible contrivance - with its gag in the mouth and goggles that let the smoke through - left one without strength to do any work. So I came up and got into a diving dress. The dress and helmet were of course very heavy, as they are made to withstand a great pressure of water, and the descent of so many ladders with this great weight was a difficult matter. However, I got down with a hose and very soon put the fire out. It had originated in one of the storerooms where there were large kegs of butter, lard, candles and the like. The butter was floating, alight, on the water, and it only needed a little water on the top of it to put an end to the mischief. But with the extinguishing of the flames the light went, and it was with some difficulty that I managed to retrace my way through the dense smoke by means of the air pipe.

During this ticklish operation the well-meaning people on top kept on pulling my rope, which is the ordinary signal to a diver to inquire if he is all right. These jerks sometimes pulled me off a ladder, and to be pulled over with one's head encased in a tremendously heavy helmet was almost enough to break one's back. Little wonder that I got back pretty nearly done up. They carried me clear of the smoke, unscrewed the face-plate of the helmet, and found that I had enough energy left



in me to express in forcible sea terms my opinion of them for constantly jerking at my rope.

Incidents of this kind always teach a lesson of one sort or another. On this occasion I learned that the smoke-cap was of no use, that the only way on board a ship to get at a fire and extinguish it was to use the diver's dress, but that the diving dress was too heavy, and that what we wanted was some modification of it kept always ready in the event of fire.

To meet the case, I had a light helmet made out of a butter tin and attached to it a short coat with a belt round the waist and bands round the wrists. I tried this in smoke and it was most satisfactory ; we adopted it in the Inconstant. I have used it in every ship I have commanded since that date, and have three times experienced its efficacy in saving H.M. ships from destruction. But the Admiralty did not bring it into use until thirty years afterwards, though I am sure it would frequently have proved of the greatest service in all ships of war. The Captain of the Inconstant reported on it in a letter as follows :

"H.M.S. Inconstant, " Alexandria.
" 26th August, 1882.

" SIR,
" In compliance with your mems. of the 18th inst. directing a report to be made stating whether the Service smoke-cap or respirator of both patterns were tried on board this ship on the occasion of the fire on the 5th of May last, and with what result :

" I have the honour to report that both were tried, with the result that they were found



to be of very little use. The men appeared to be able to breathe well enough through the smoke-caps as long as they were standing still, but directly they get excited and begin to take violent exercise, as they are certain to do when the ship is on fire, it appears that they are unable to get sufficient air to keep them from choking. Possibly the medical profession could explain in more elaborate terms the reason for this result.

" Practically it was found during the fire on board the Inconstant that the only apparatus by which the fire could be approached was the Service diving dress with air-pipe connected and pump worked on the upper deck, but it was found from the great weight of the helmet and corslet and the cumbrous nature of the dress movements were slow and but little work could be done.

" Gun. Lieut. Percy Scott put on the diving dress himself and descended into the burning compartments and it was in consequence of the experience gained upon this occasion that he devised the ingenious, cheap, and eminently practical modification of the Service diving dress for use in case of fire, and I venture to think that a few pounds expended in furtherance of Lieut. Percy Scott's views, might in all probability be the means of saving one or perhaps more of H.M. ships from destruction.
" I have the honour to be,
" Sir, "Your ob. Servt,
" C. C. P. FITZGERALD, " Captain.

"Ad. S. B. P. Seymour, G.C.B., " Commander-in-Chief."




Their Lordships thanked me for this invention, but added that they did not intend adopting it, as the Loeb (German) smoke-cap appeared to answer the purpose. This is just what it did not do. The smoke helmet and coat was adopted shortly afterwards by the New York Fire Brigade, but it took the Admiralty, as I have said, thirty years to come to a similar decision.

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