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RN in the age of sail - was it as bad as all that?

Can someone explain how the prize money thing worked ?
First scenario ..
HMS Desperate captures a French frigate or whatever , a skeleton crew then sails it back to the nearest RN part and it becomes HMS Capture .
How much do the crew get for this ?
Where do you keep it without it being stolen ?
Is it enough for the crew to say thanks for the ride , but I'm leaving ?
Second scenario ..
HMS Desperate , on station in the Caribbean captures a Spanish cargo ship loaded with two tons of silver destined for the Spanish treasury .
What then ?
Does the captain turn round and say " Well lads , get in touch with Savills because you'll all be wealthy landowners as soon as we dock in Portsmouth " ?
Or do they sail to America , sell the ship and become entrepreneurs ?
Are there ANY tales of happy ever after ?

Captain ( later Admiral ) Thomas Cochrane led three ships around the coast of France, Spain and various parts of the Med making life very unpleasant for His Majestys enemies.
In the process they captured a few ships, some with valuable cargo.

A friend of mine is direct descendant of one of those Captains and the family had an Estate in Scotland ( long gone in Inheritance taxes ) but still owns a sizeable chunk of the Shepheard Neame brewery.

Its such a shame Prize money is a thing of the past. They will be taking away cutlasses and the Rum ration next....
 
Bligh is known in Dublin for having designed the entrance to the harbour,with it's North and South Bull Walls, to keep out the silt which constantly clogged the port.
 
Captain ( later Admiral ) Thomas Cochrane led three ships around the coast of France, Spain and various parts of the Med making life very unpleasant for His Majestys enemies.
In the process they captured a few ships, some with valuable cargo.

A friend of mine is direct descendant of one of those Captains and the family had an Estate in Scotland ( long gone in Inheritance taxes ) but still owns a sizeable chunk of the Shepheard Neame brewery.

Its such a shame Prize money is a thing of the past. They will be taking away cutlasses and the Rum ration next....
Very interested to know how it was calculated , divided up and actually paid .
Some matelot being given a sack of money or valuables would be the target of every villain , inn keeper , brothel keeper and shark in the country .
 
If I recollect right it the prize money for a foreign ship taken by one of the RN was split into six parts, one for the admiral commanding the station, two for the captain, one for the other officers, one for the warrant and petty officers and one for the rest. But there were endless complications, for example if another RN ship was in sight, even if only on the horizon, they could claim halves. And it could take for ever to pay out.

Some stations, like the Caribbean, were regarded as better bets than others and smart (venal) admirals made fortunes by sending out frigates commanded by their most accomplished captains to rake in prizes.

Prize money was paid out on the structure and contents of enemy warships and merchantmen but also on anything else that was taken in war.

The Dudley Pope book mentioned above has a much better description.
 
Very interested to know how it was calculated , divided up and actually paid .
Some matelot being given a sack of money or valuables would be the target of every villain , inn keeper , brothel keeper and shark in the country .

From memory it was something like 50% to the Crown then the rest shared out on a sliding scale from Captain down to lowest Rate.
As stated somewhere above, even a small share of a big Prize could set a man up for life.

Edit - that breakdown may have been from a much earlier period ( Elizabethan ? ) period of our history.
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
First off, if you're interested in reading original source documentation for the period, join the Navy Records Society. I've been a member for 40 odd years. 'Logs of the Great Sea Fights' (for example) are transcripts of the ship's logs from the 6 great fleet actions of the Napoleonic wars.


In general, there were plusses and minus. You were better fed and looked after than many people on shore - on the other hand the chances of death from disease were probably higher. You had the chance of substantial sums of prize money - buy your pay might be months in arrears. It all depended on the ship's captain.

Cuthbert Collingwood (Old Cuddie) was renowned for his humanity. He never flogged yet - by common consent - had the best disciplined ship in the fleet. Even Nelson, no slouch at inspiring seamen himself, would send incorrigible sailors to Collingwood to make something of.

Robert Hay, who went to sea as an untrained Landsman, wrote that if you could not be happy in one of Collingwood's ships, you could not be happy anywhere.

Or you could have a sadistic captain like Hugh Pigot, who was the cause of the bloodiest mutiny in the RN's history.

Hugh Pigot (Royal Navy officer, born 1769) - Wikipedia

Wordsmith
 

endure

GCM
The distribution of prizes has been comprehensively explained in post #60
 
Was it done fairly? I presume it must have been, I mean you'd only have to cheat a crew out of their fair do's once for word to get round that it wasn't worth the effort as those buggers in the Admiralty would just steal it all.

In fairness, the prize money principle (did other navies use it?) really gives an indication of the piratical origins of the modern Royal Navy and how good captains came to win their fame, a man of relatively humble stock could rise rapidly in the English navy, unlike those of Spain or France, I think, where only Dons and blokes with "de" in their name gained high office.

The Spanish regarded England in the 16th century as little more than a rogue nation akin to our perception of somewhere like Iran today, full of religious and political deviants and pirates threatening international maritime trade and the established order.
 
If I recollect right it the prize money for a foreign ship taken by one of the RN was split into six parts, one for the admiral commanding the station, two for the captain, one for the other officers, one for the warrant and petty officers and one for the rest. But there were endless complications, for example if another RN ship was in sight, even if only on the horizon, they could claim halves. And it could take for ever to pay out.

Some stations, like the Caribbean, were regarded as better bets than others and smart (venal) admirals made fortunes by sending out frigates commanded by their most accomplished captains to rake in prizes.

Prize money was paid out on the structure and contents of enemy warships and merchantmen but also on anything else that was taken in war.

The Dudley Pope book mentioned above has a much better description.
Excellent ! Pope is one of my books on reserve from the county library system , my creaking shelves cannot many more Amazon purchases ( who are ripping me off anyway with inflated prices as a regular purchaser )
 
Bligh is known in Dublin for having designed the entrance to the harbour,with it's North and South Bull Walls, to keep out the silt which constantly clogged the port.
He certainly surveyed Dublin harbour but he didn’t design the Bull Walls. That was George Halpin. Bligh suggested a design, but it was never built.

Halpin and his son were among the great lighthouse builders and the fathers of Irish lighthouses. Not quite as influential as the Stevensons (Robert Louis grandfather, father and brother) but their legacy exists today. Anyone who’s been round the Fastnet has been round a Halpin lighthouse.
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
Was it done fairly [prize money]? I presume it must have been, I mean you'd only have to cheat a crew out of their fair do's once for word to get round that it wasn't worth the effort as those buggers in the Admiralty would just steal it all.

Put aside any thoughts of Captains cheating their crew of prize money. The lower deck (and they were always referred to in the documents of the time as the 'people' not the 'crew') could and did write directly to the Admiralty with a petition of complaints. And if the complaint was regarded as a 'service matter' by the Admiralty, they would investigate thoroughly. More than a few officers were court martialled a result of such petitions.

Put aside any thoughts of the Nelsonic RN operating in the same way as the modern RN - it was an entirely different beast. For example, there were a lot of mutinies = sit down strike. And - if carried out in the service tradition - there were seldom any punishments. The unwritten rules were:
  • In port and never at sea
  • Never with a prospect of action with the enemy
  • In pursuit of a service objective, such as unusually poor rations or exceptionally harsh treatment
  • No violence or disrespect to officers
There are multiple cases of ship's refusing to sail until their pay was brought up to date. The crew petitioned the Admiralty, the Admiralty told the Port Admiral to investigate; if the pay was genuinely in arrears it was paid and the ship sailed a few days late.

Wordsmith
 
The Hyde Parkers farm down the road from me ,their ancestral pile now belongs to the nation .
Always wondered how they made their pile , starting to make sense now .
 
There was a reasonable amount of care for sailors back then.

There was a body called The Sick and Wounded Board, or the Commissioners for taking care of Sick and Wounded Seamen and for the Exchanging of Prisoners of War (snappy title). I don't think the Army had a similar body. I'm not sure about the RAF back in the Napoleonic Wars.

What was the grub like:

Shortly after four A.M., the Carpenter and Boatswain came on deck to begin their repair work, while the Cook lit fires in the galley and began the preparations for breakfast, often the oatmeal gruel called “burgoo” or “skillagolee,” an unloved concoction frequently of poor oatmeal and bad ship’s water. (Sometime after 1805, Cooks were able to serve it with butter or molasses to make it more palatable.) Another breakfast offering was dark, thick “Scotch Coffee,” burned ship’s biscuit boiled in water.​
The issuing of grog, a mixture of rum and water, began in the 1740s as a means to control liquor consumption in the Navy. The men usually received two rations a day totaling a pint, but it was not the only drink. Beer, rationed out at the rate of a gallon a day, was far more popular than grog but usually available only in home waters or up to a month out at sea. In the Mediterranean, the seamen often received a pint of wine as their alcohol ration.​
While the crew ate at tables below deck on weekly rations of ship’s biscuit, salt beef, pork with pea soup, and cheese, the officers had better fare. In the wardroom, they ate together sitting on chairs at a well-set table, each often attended by a servant. Instead of sharing the rations the Admiralty provided the crew, the officers appointed one of their own as the mess caterer, and he purchased their food ashore, using their mess subscriptions. Sometimes these mess subscriptions, billed to each officer, ran as high as £60 per year (more than half a Lieutenant’s annual pay) and allowed officers to enjoy such luxuries as tea, sugar, and wine.​

So sailors were probably no worse off that the average miner, factory worker or farm labourer. Probably better off insofar as their employment was guaranteed and not subject to seasonal or structural unemployment.

I doubt that life was a bunch of roses though.

(Extracts from: The Royal Navy During the War of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War - John B. Hattendorf)
 

DarrenC

Swinger
First off, if you're interested in reading original source documentation for the period, join the Navy Records Society. I've been a member for 40 odd years. 'Logs of the Great Sea Fights' (for example) are transcripts of the ship's logs from the 6 great fleet actions of the Napoleonic wars.


In general, there were plusses and minus. You were better fed and looked after than many people on shore - on the other hand the chances of death from disease were probably higher. You had the chance of substantial sums of prize money - buy your pay might be months in arrears. It all depended on the ship's captain.

Cuthbert Collingwood (Old Cuddie) was renowned for his humanity. He never flogged yet - by common consent - had the best disciplined ship in the fleet. Even Nelson, no slouch at inspiring seamen himself, would send incorrigible sailors to Collingwood to make something of.

Robert Hay, who went to sea as an untrained Landsman, wrote that if you could not be happy in one of Collingwood's ships, you could not be happy anywhere.

Or you could have a sadistic captain like Hugh Pigot, who was the cause of the bloodiest mutiny in the RN's history.

Hugh Pigot (Royal Navy officer, born 1769) - Wikipedia

Wordsmith
Collingwood is sadly greatly overshadowed by his oppo Nelson, like you say not a fan of the lash and tougher on his officers then his ratings, apparently also a good land and mine owner, plus he was a Geordie
 
Put aside any thoughts of Captains cheating their crew of prize money. The lower deck (and they were always referred to in the documents of the time as the 'people' not the 'crew') could and did write directly to the Admiralty with a petition of complaints. And if the complaint was regarded as a 'service matter' by the Admiralty, they would investigate thoroughly. More than a few officers were court martialled a result of such petitions.

Put aside any thoughts of the Nelsonic RN operating in the same way as the modern RN - it was an entirely different beast. For example, there were a lot of mutinies = sit down strike. And - if carried out in the service tradition - there were seldom any punishments. The unwritten rules were:
  • In port and never at sea
  • Never with a prospect of action with the enemy
  • In pursuit of a service objective, such as unusually poor rations or exceptionally harsh treatment
  • No violence or disrespect to officers
There are multiple cases of ship's refusing to sail until their pay was brought up to date. The crew petitioned the Admiralty, the Admiralty told the Port Admiral to investigate; if the pay was genuinely in arrears it was paid and the ship sailed a few days late.

Wordsmith
Slightly off topic but wasn't there a "mutiny" in the Navy in the 1930s over a pay cut?
 
There are even shelves of brand new-never issued bits of kit. The problem was (as I understand it) the stuff has never been catalogued and-as it has not been inputted onto any modern stores system-does not officially exist. It cannot be disposed of for that same reason.
Any kit can be brought onto account (and disposed off). Its just simply a matter of the Navy being idle cnuts.
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
Collingwood is sadly greatly overshadowed by his oppo Nelson, like you say not a fan of the lash and tougher on his officers then his ratings, apparently also a good land and mine owner, plus he was a Geordie

Collingwood wrote one of the saddest letters I have ever read. In July 1808, after commanding the Mediterranean fleet in the three years after Trafalgar, he had his portrait painted and sent home to his wife. She wrote back saying it was a poor likeness. This is Collingwood's reply.
I am sorry to find my picture was not an agreeable surprise: I did not say anything to you about it, because I would always guard you as much as I could against disappointment; but you see, with all my care, I sometimes fail. The painter was reckoned the most eminent in Sicily; but you expected to find me a smooth-skinned, clear-complexioned gentleman, such as I was when I left home, dressed in the newest taste, and like the fine people who live gay lives ashore. Alas! it is far otherwise with me. The painter was thought to have flattered me much: that lump under my chin was but the loose skin from which the flesh has shrunk away; the redness of my face was not, I assure you the effect of wine, but of burning suns and boisterous winds; and my eyes, which were once dark and bright, are now faded and dim. The painter represented me as I am, not as I once was. It is time and toil that have worked the change. and not his want of skill. That the countenance is stern, will not be wondered at, when it is considered how many sad and anxious hours and how many heartaches I have. I shall be very glad when the war is over.

Wordsmith
 

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