Syndicate of Discontent

From The Dreadnought Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable Lord Fisher, 1916.
Portrait: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

The Syndicate of Discontent was a label given to the opposition to Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher during his first term as First Sea Lord from 1904 to 1910. This opposition was not organised, yet has been portrayed by historians as a monolithic bloc opposing Fisher and his reforms at the Admiralty, and damned as being "discontented"[1] or even "wrong-minded".[2]

Fisher wrote to an unidentified correspondent on 3 January 1907:

A naval friend in the enemy's camp told me the day before yesterday that the "Syndicate of Discontent" (as they call these Naval Adullamites!) were now about to redouble their efforts against the Admiralty.[3]

This is the first recorded mention of a Syndicate. The term was clearly not Fisher's, yet he is occasionally credited as its inventor.[4] Just five days after he wrote this a letter from Sir William White, lately Director of Naval Construction, appeared in The Times under the pseudonym "Civis", which read in part:

Already the engines of vessels at sea are being directly controlled from the bridge as in a motor-car, and the efforts of all the members of the syndicate of discontent cannot arrest the scientific evolution of the Fleet, the substance of which has been co-ordinated by one great brain.[5]

That White is then generally included in the Syndicate demonstrates how foolish it is to try and assign it any definite membership or organisation.[6][7] Leadership is generally ascribed to Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, later Lord Beresford (not "Sir Charles Beresford" as written by Paul Halpern). Essentially anyone who opposed any of Fisher's reforms, or his methods, is described by historians as a member. Some, such as Admiral of the Fleet Sir Hedworth Meux and Admiral C. C. Penrose FitzGerald, were former friends. In 1915 Fisher wrote of the latter, "This is an Admiral who from being a close friend became my malignant enemy!"[8] Admiral of the Fleet Lord Wester Wemyss, who as a Captain worked closely with Fisher in naval education is apparently included because of a seething hatred he later expressed in his memoirs.

If anyone who opposed Fisher is included in the Syndicate then there are some strange omissions, such as Admiral of the Fleet the Marquess of Milford Haven, who left the Naval Intelligence Department prematurely rather than work with Fisher, and Admiral Sir Henry H. Campbell and Captain Arthur R. Hulbert of the same department who assisted Beresford in 1909. There are no doubt many more.

Members are said to have included:


  1. Parkinson. Dreadnought. p. 149.
  2. Lambert. Admirals. p. 315.
  3. Fear God and Dread Nought. Volume II. p. 110.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Halpern. "Syndicate of discontent (act. 1904–1910)."
  5. "Naval Discipline", The Times, 8 Jan. 1907, p. 5.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 Marder. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. I. p. 77.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Lambert. The Foundations of Naval History. p. 197.
  8. Fear God and Dread Nought. Volume II. p. 112n.


  • Fisher of Kilverstone, Lord (1956). Marder, Arthur J.. ed. Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone: Years of Power, 1904-1912. Volume II. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Halpern, Paul G. "Syndicate of discontent (act. 1904–1910)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Lambert, Andrew (1998). The Foundations of Naval History: John Knox Laughton, the Royal Navy and the Historical Profession. London: Chatham Publishing.
  • Lambert, Andrew (2008). Admirals: The Naval Officers Who Made Britain Great. London: Faber and Faber Limited.
  • Marder, Arthur J. (1961). From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919: The Road to War, 1904-1914. Volume I. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Parkinson, Roger (2015). Dreadnought: The Ship That Changed the World. London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.