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The timber question involved the supply of two separate commodities, plank and masts. In the middle of the 16th century masts had been obtained from Danzig and the Baltic ports; the best from Riga, 18 to 25 inches in diameter, and 70 to 80 feet long. The safe delivery of everything which came from the north was, however, imperilled by war; and the constant wars with France and Holland, and the doubtful attitude of Denmark, led, in 1652, to two vessels being sent to New England to bring samples of colonial trees. It seems probable that Mr Winthrop's suggestion, made ten years later, reinforced the result of this experiment; as it would appear from correspondence, to be presently referred to, that gradually the yards came to depend solely on the colonial supply. In 1704, by an Act referring generally to naval stores, importation was encouraged by a premium of 17. per tun; and a few years later, in view of the great store of trees fit for masts in Scotland, landowners were encouraged in the same way to make roads for their transport to the sea. In 1721 a statute was passed protecting the forests of Nova Scotia, where there were 'great numbers of white pine trees fit for masting the Royal Navy.'† The benefit of this Act was felt after the American Rebellion.‡
For the supply of all other things which the Navy needed-generically 'naval stores'-necessity had long compelled the purchase of them abroad without the intervention of the Council. Those of greatest importance, and, reverting to Pepys' Report, 'least to be depended upon from the market, as being (save one) all of forreign growth,' were 'hemp, pitch, tar, rosin, canvas, iron, oyle, and wood.' Cordage came from Danzig and
A combination between Holland and Denmark might close the gates of the Baltic, and 'might exclude England from free access to the tar, cordage, and other prime necessities for the building and rigging of her ships' (Morley's 'Oliver Cromwell,' Bk. iv, ch. 5).
†The forests of the tropical Colonies do not seem to have been regularly exploited for masts or ships' timber. There exist still in Mauritius traces of a 'Chemin des Vergues,' down which tall trees were dragged from the forests to Port Louis, certainly by Labourdonnais, probably by his English successors. Mr Paul Koenig, the present Director of Forests, tells me that the tree was the Tatamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum), which is in high repute for masting, 'being light, even-grained, and wind-strong.' 'Barham Papers,' II, 192, 223.
Russia, through the medium of the Russia Company. The best iron came from Spain; hemp, pitch, tar, and the rest from Russia and the Scandinavian countries.
To the replenishment of the yards Pepys devoted his energies. The 'proposition' submitted by him to the King was that each ship should be provided with six months' sea-stores 'separately laid up and preserv'd for use whenever the service shall call for them,' and that there should be a further reserve in magazine for answering the general service of the Navy. The Secretary's work, which earned for him the title The right hand of the Navy,' resulted in the obtaining of such an enlargement of magazines and the amassing therein of such a treasure of stores, as England was never before mistress of, nor could now have had its navy longer supported without.' He could say with just pride that he had helped to raise the navy of England from the lowest state of impotence to the most advanced step towards a lasting and solid prosperity that (all circumstances considered) this nation had ever seen it at.'
Thus, and in the several ways here indicated, were the foundations laid of the policy of ships' timber and naval stores in its domestic application. We see it at work in 1704, in the statute of Anne 'for encouraging the importation of naval stores from His Majesty's Plantations in America,' the preamble of which recited the elementary truth, that the Royal Navy and the navigation of England, wherein, under God, the wealth, safety, and strength of this Kingdom is so much concerned, depends on the due supply of stores necessary for the same'; but they were now brought in mostly from foreign parts, in foreign shipping, and at exorbitant and arbitrary rates. There were vast tracts of land in the Plantations lying near the sea and upon navigable rivers, which might with due encouragement commodiously afford great quantities of all sorts of naval stores. Wherefore rewards, or premiums, on importation were to be paid by the Commissioners of the Navy-for tar and pitch, 41. per tun; for rosin and turpentine, 37.; for hemp, 67.; and for masts, yards, and bowsprits, 17. per tun. The Navy was to have the refusal of all stores imported, and a penalty was imposed for destruction of pitch-pine or tar-trees. The Act dealing with the Scotch
forests had also in view the manufacture of pitch, tar, and rosin. These Acts proved very successful,* and were renewed in 1721, when additional encouragement was given to the production of hemp.t Further, any sort of wood, plank or timber, wrought or unwrought, or goods commonly called Lumber,' were to be admitted free of duty, except masts, yards, and bowsprits, which remained subject to the premium. The Acts were periodically continued until the American Rebellion, when the Navy was weighed down with the maladministration of Lord Sandwich, which had begun in January 1771. Pepys' work was frittered away, and the evil which he fought once more rose triumphant.
The severely practical recommendations of Pepys' Commission, which, apart from the necessity of importing East-country plank, found a virtue in its superior merits, somewhat jars against the lyrical tradition which has enshrined the English oak in English hearts. But there were many who maintained that old tradition; among them Evelyn, who wrote that the oak is above all the trees of the forrest absolutely necessary in naval architecture,' and that spring and toughness were the special qualities with which our English oak was endued. And Dr Hunter, who was responsible for the edition of Silva' issued in 1776, says that the common English pak, for shipbuilding, far excels all the kinds in the known world.' Pepys himself notes that in the old Navy nstances were known where the timber had been standing, cut and converted, and the ship built therewith, and launched in six months, without having one plank shifted in them (but for shot) in 8 or 9 years after.' In his dedication of the 4th edition to the King, Evelyn declared that soon after its original publication millions of trees had been propagated and planted 'at he instigation, and by sole direction of this work'; and nis editor, writing while the memories of the Seven Years' War were fresh, added,
• One fleet from New England brought home 6000 barrels of pitch, tar, nd turpentine to London, in 1715 (Anderson's 'Origin of Commerce,' II, p. 68).
†The consumption of hemp in 1781 was 12,000 tons; but in peace time The amount required annually was about 3000 tons. Two-thirds of what was grown near Petersburg came to England ('Barham Papers,' II, 220).
'There is reason to believe that many of our ships which, in the last war, gave laws to the whole world, were constructed from oaks planted at that time. The present age must reflect upon this with gratitude, and it is to be hoped that we shall be ambitious to receive from posterity the same acknowledgment that we, at this moment, pay to the memory of our virtuous ancestors.'
Dr Nisbet, Evelyn's modern editor, attributes a similar result to the publication of Hunter's massive quarto. It is a doubtful if a pleasant story, yet one very popular with authors. Isaac Disraeli talks of Evelyn's 'triumph'Inquire,' he says, 'at the Admiralty how the fleets of Nelson had been constructed, and they can tell you that it was with the oaks that the genius of Evelyn planted.' The general wastage of the forests must have continued after the 'great planting'; and millions of trees were cut down for 'fewel,' men being 'more studious to cut down than to plant.' Evelyn tells us that acorns planted in hedge-rows have borne a stem of a foot diameter in thirty years. Pepys' Commission sat twenty-four years after the appearance of 'Sylva'; and had Evelyn's trees existed, the master-builders could not have failed to report on so goodly a store of
'sapling oaks, which at Britannia's call,
May heave their trunks mature into the main,
There is no doubt, however, that the wastage continued unchecked. A Committee of the House of Commons appointed in 1771 only touched the fringe of the danger when it reported that the East India Company was building ships far in excess of the tonnage requirements of their trade, and recommended the Act, passed in the following year, limiting their activities to the Colonies and India. The evil was widespread. Dr Hunter recorded in 1776 that the cutting down of all kinds of woods is become so general that unless some effectual remedy be soon applied, it is more than probable that very little full-grown timber will be left in this island for the use of the ship-builder.' He added this grave warn ing: The most serious and positive proofs can be produced that, at this very moment, the Royal Navy is
in want of timber. With what zeal ought we to join in warding off the impending danger?'
The danger was even then at our doors; for it was in 1776 that De Vergennes' policy of secretly aiding the American rebels was definitely accepted by Louis XVI. France then began to collect timber and stores for rebuilding the fleet which was to deprive England of her supremacy at sea. In his article in the Dictionary of National Biography on the Earl of Sandwich, Sir J. K. Laughton says that in 1780 the dockyards were sinks of iniquity; but that at no time were they so utterly bad as during the War of American Independence. As a result of Sandwich's methods, the charge of departments was in the hands of men without qualifications:
'It is not to be wondered at that, when war with France broke out in 1778, the number of ships in the Navy was inadequate, and that of what there were many were not sea-worthy; that the naval store-houses were empty; that the ships sent to America under Admiral John Byron were rigged with twice-laid rope; that it was only with the greatest difficulty and after most vexatious delay that Keppel got to sea with a fleet still numerically inferior to that under D'Orvilliers; and that on his return to Plymouth, after the indecisive action of 27th July there were neither masts, nor spars, nor rope for the necessary refitting. This was at the very beginning of the war, but the same want of ships and of stores continued throughout.'
The incompetence of Lord Sandwich's administration of the Navy is matter of history; but for the lack of timber, and consequent shortage of ships, which brought us nearly to disaster, the nation at large is to blame.
A year before France declared war, steps were taken by the Admiralty to deal with the impending shortage of masts. In November 1777, the Navy Board reported that, although the magazines were well stored, 'there are but few large masts due upon contract, and the present contractor apprehends there may be difficulty in providing further supplies.' The Admiralty resolved that a mission should be sent to Russia to purchase such masts as could be had immediately, and to contract for a further supply; and Mr Butt, one of the principal officers of Deptford yard, was selected; and, in requesting Lord Suffolk's good offices for him, Lord Sandwich added, 'for tho', thank God,