Memoirs of Lord Charles Beresford – Naval Discipline Act

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Lord Charles Beresford (1846-1919) was a British Admiral and Member of Parliament, he was a hero in battle and a champion of the Navy in Parliament.  This is the tenth installment in our series of his memoirs – taken from ‘The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford’ written by himself and published in 1914.

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Memoirs of Lord Charles Beresford – Naval Discipline Act

Very great credit is due to Admiral Sir William Martin, who reformed the discipline of the Fleet. The Naval Discipline Act was passed in [1861]; the New Naval Discipline Act in [1866]. In [1871] a circular was issued restricting the infliction of corporal punishment in peace time. Flogging was virtually abolished in [1879]. (Laird Clowes’ The Royal Navy, vol. 7.) Now we have proper discipline and no cat. In former days, we had the cat but no proper discipline.

The men were granted very little leave. They were often on board for months together. When they went ashore, there they remained until they had spent their last penny; and when they came on board they were either drunk or shamming drunk. For drunkenness was the fashion then, just as sobriety is, happily, the fashion now. In order to be in the mode, a man would actually feign drunkenness on coming aboard. In many a night-watch after leave had been given have I superintended the hoisting in of drunken men, who were handed over to the care of their messmates. Today, an intoxicated man is not welcomed by his mess, his comrades preferring that he should be put out of the way in cells. It was impossible to keep liquor out of the ship. Men would bring it aboard in little bladders concealed in their neckties. Excess was the rule in many ships. On Christmas Day, for instance, it was not advisable for an officer to go on the lower deck, which was given up to license. I remember one man who ate and drank himself to death on Christmas Day. There he lay, beside a gun, dead. Other cases of the same kind occurred in other ships.

The rations were so meagre that hunger induced the men constantly to chew tobacco. For the same reason I chewed tobacco myself as a boy. Nor have I ever been able to understand how on such insufficient and plain diet the men were so extraordinarily hardy. They used to go aloft and remain aloft for hours, reefing sails, when a gale was blowing with snow and sleet, clad only in flannel (vest) serge frock and cloth or serge trousers, their heads, arms and lower part of their legs bare. Then they would go below to find the decks awash in a foot of water, the galley fire extinguished, nothing to eat until next meal time but a biscuit, and nothing to drink but water.

Excerpt from The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford written by himself and published in 1914.

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Further Reading and External Links

Lord Charles Beresford on Wikipedia

Lord Charles Beresford on The Dreadnought Project