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Sir Charles Napier and the Mediterranean Command (1851)

In April 1849 Napier's squadron returned to Spithead, and Napier was ordered to strike his flag. He had expected to hold the command for three years, and the disappointment perhaps gave increased bitterness to the many letters which he wrote to the ‘Times’ denouncing the policy of the admiralty. He had already applied for the Mediterranean station but the admiralty and the prime minister were agreed that they could not trust to his discretion. This led to further correspondence which Napier published in the The Times of 19 December 1851.

The opening letter says:

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES --

Sir - I inclose you a correspondence that has taken place between Lord John Russell and myself relative to the Mediterranean command, in order that the country and the navy may see that Ministerial and Admiralty jobbery are of more importance in the Eyes of a Whig Prime Minister than either rank or (to make use of his own expressions) "brilliant exploits." I do not dispute the right of the Prime Minister to choose whom he pleases to fill important commands, but I dispute the right of the first Lord of the Admiralty in the first instance and the Prime Minister in the second to damn the professional character of an officer by attributing to him a want of discretion, when documents at the Admiralty for 50 years prove the contrary.

Were the navy ruled by a professional man, he would not have dared to dishonour an officer; that is left to Lord John Russell and Sir Francis Baring, who appear not to know what military honour is, and thank God, I am in a position and independent eought to tell them so.

I remain your obedient servant,

Charles Napier

Merchistoun, Dec. 17.


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