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The Earl of St. Vincent had great influence in the cabinet in 1802; and we owe to his wise and vigorous administration, while at the head of the admiralty, the present sound and healthy state of its navy. The dock-yards had long been, as he expressed, "a sink of corruption." From these Mr. Colquhoun, an enlightened magistrate, calculated that the government was plundered of one million a year; and experience convinces us that his estimate is not overrated.
The naval hospitals and receptacles for sick were narrowly inspected. The comforts of the patients were minutely attended to, and the establishments assumed a more respectable and efficient form, than they had aver done since we had become a maritime power.
It was in consequence of his Lordship's suggestion, that the board of naval inquiry was first instituted. The powers demanded by the bill were considered too extensive, and its progress was watched with a jealousy proportioned to its magnitude; its enemies being among those who were above suspicion of any collusion or sinister motive. It was alleged that the admiralty and the navy board possessed those powers, by their patent, which they sought by the bill. This was charging them with an absurdity, and a wanton abuse of the time and talents of the house; but it was clearly not founded in fact; and had it been true, could not have affected the demand of the admiralty, which, in its multiplicity of business, had not time to enter on the proposed inquiry. seemed to be, that by the power vested in the commissioners, a man might be made to criminate himself.
The bill was first introduced to the commons by Captain John Markham, then a lord of the admiralty, who stated, that the board of admiralty had not the leisure time sufficient to examine these abuses with minuteness; and moreover, that they were not empowered to administer oaths for that purpose. He disavowed any idea of conveying censure on the preceding board of admiralty, whom the circumstances of the war had prevented from going into the necessary inquiry.
Admiral Berkeley contended, that on examining the patent of the admiralty, he was convinced that their lordships had those powers, which it was now intended to give to commissioners.
Mr. Jarvis said, the admiralty was not possessed of all the powers now demanded by the bill. That board could neither regulate prizeagents, nor call for papers or records. These commissioners were moreover expected to inquire whether abuses existed in the higher departments of the navy, in the admiralty and navy boards; it would therefore be highly improper that these boards should be judges in their own cause.
The most novel feature in the discussion of this bill was pointed out by the attorney-general, who observed, that perhaps it was now the first time when ministers, having called for inquiry into abuses, were resisted by the opposition. The fear
Having passed the commons, the bill was introduced to the lords by Lord Pelham, on the 21st of December, 1802, and was supported by Lord JVelson, chiefly on account of the difficulties existing in the navy respecting prize-money. It was opposed by his Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence, as mischievous and unnecessary; but it passed after certain modifications, by which persons were protected from answering any question which might tend to criminate themselves.
The commissioners appointed were Vice-admiral Sir Charles M. Pole, Bart., Ewen Law, Esq., John Ford, Esq., Captain Henry Nicholls, of the Royal Navy, and Wm. Macworth Praed, Esq.
There was a boldness in their actions, and a firm and manly tone in their proceedings, which set at defiance every suspicion of partiality, and every claim of private friendship. Nothing appeared to escape the penetrating eyes of this commission; and the civil courage and independence with which they conducted their laborious investigation, will immortalize their names to the latest posterity.
The foreign dock-yards, which were the subject of the first report, were scrutinized with ability, and immense advantage ensued to the public. Commissioners were appointed to those which had them not before; regular supplies of naval stores were sent out, and the nation saved the expense of