Sea Fencible's Department

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Sea Fencible's Department
Board of Admiralty Flag 19th to early 20th Century.gif
Department overview
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Department executive
  • Director of Sea Fencibles England, Scotland and Wales
  • Director of Sea Fencibles Ireland
Parent DepartmentDepartment of Admiralty

The Sea Fencible's Department was a department of the British Department of Admiralty charged with administrating the Sea Fencible's Naval Militia also known as the Corps of Sea Fencibles or Sea Fencible Service .It was established in 1798 to provide a close-in line of defence and obstruct the operation of enemy shipping, principally during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars the department was gradually abolished in between 1810 and 1813. The department was administered by the Director of Sea Fencibles England, Scotland and Wales and the Director of Sea Fencibles Ireland.[1] In 1805 the militia numbered some 30,000 men.[2]


English Sea Fencibles

The Sea Fencibles were a part-time organisation of coastal militia recruited from fishermen and boatmen, under the command of naval officers, formed for local defence and mobilised in case of invasion or emergency. In March 1798, five post-captains were appointed to the newly formed Sea Fencible Service, or Corps of Sea Fencibles. These officers were to command and superintend the enrolment of locally raised men in five Districts stretching along the coast from Emsworth on the Hampshire/Sussex border, to Great Yarmouth on the east coast. Five more Districts were created shortly afterwards from the Isle of Wight to Land's End, and an eleventh District, Saltfleet to Flamborough Head, was added some weeks later. The appointment of post captains and their subordinate officers to the 1798 Districts were made by the Admiralty. All were stood down in October 1801. In July 1803 the corps was reactivated on a much larger establishment with nearly forty Districts, plus over twenty Districts of the Irish establishment authorised later that year. The whole service in Ireland, together with that of signal stations and the Impress Service, was superintended by an admiral. Both 1803 establishments were stood down in October 1810.[3]

Irish Sea Fencibles

By Admiralty Order, 20 Sea Fencible units were established and a network of Martello towers constructed to protect the Irish coastline. The number of men and boats per district varied widely and the British had concerns about their reliability, especially given Robert Emmet's insurrection in Dublin in 1803. In 1804, the Irish Sea Fencibles had some 28 gun vessels of various sorts - a brig, three galliots, and the rest sloops. Generally these carried two 18-pounder guns and two 18-pounder carronades. The owners usually provided a crew consisting of four men and a boy, with the plan that Sea Fencibles would augment this cadre when the vessels had to put out to sea. In February 1810, when it became clear that the threat of invasion by Napolean Bonaparte had passed, the Sea Fencibles were disbanded.[4]

River Fencibles

In 1798 watermen and other groups of river tradesmen on the River Thames voluntarily formed associations of River Fencibles. Officially established in 1803 as "Corps of River Fencibles of the City of London", by 1804 they had uniformed commissioned officers in command. Members of the Corps escorted the barge carrying the body of Lord Nelson along the Thames in small boats during his state funeral in 1806. In 1807 River Fencibles sailed to Copenhagen to help bring back some of the Danish vessels captured there after the second Battle of Copenhagen. The Greenwich River Fencibles consisted of a commandant, three captains, six lieutenants, 24 masters, 24 mates, and 157 gunners and privates. The Government provide pikes, but nothing else, so the men defrayed their own expenses. The Greenwich River Fencibles sent two officers and 126 men to Copenhagen. The City of London, Loyal Greenwich, and Royal Harbour River Fencibles also contributed men to the Walcheren expedition in 1809. The Greenwich River Fencibles alone sent two officers and 130 men on the Walcheren expedition, two of whom were killed. In all, about 300 Fencibles volunteered to serve at Copenhagen and about the same number served on the Walcheren Expedition. The Corps was disbanded in 1813.[5]

Heads of Department

The Sea Fencibles were divided into 36 companies, with each company responsible for patrolling and defending a section of the coastline. Company command was vested in three Royal Navy captains and up to six Lieutenants per district. The district captains reported in turn a Director of Sea Fencibles, usually an admiral.

Director of Sea Fencibles England, Scotland and Wales

  1. Rear-Admiral of the Red: George C. Berkely, 1799-1805.

Director of Sea Fencibles Ireland

  1. Vice-Admiral of the Blue: James Hawkins-Whitshed, 1799-1807.

British Sea Fencible Districts, 1798 to 1801


  1. Emsworth to Beachy Head
  2. Beachy Head to Deal
  3. Deal to Faversham
  4. Leigh to Harwich
  5. Harwich to Yarmouth
  6. Isle of Wight
  7. Coast of Hampshire
  8. Coast of Dorset
  9. Coast of Devon
  10. Plymouth to Land's End
  11. Saltfleet to Flamborough Head

British Sea Fencible Districts, 1803 to 1810


  1. Emsworth to Beachy Head
  2. Beachy Head to Dungeness
  3. Dungeness to Sandgate
  4. Sandgate to Sandown
  5. Sandown to the North Foreland
  6. North Foreland to East Swale
  7. Along the Medway from Maidstone
  8. Lower Hope to Blackwater
  9. Blackwater to the Stour
  10. The Stour to Southwold
  11. Southwold to Cromer
  12. Cromer to Fosdyke Wash (up to 6 Feb 1806)
  13. Hunstanton to Fosdyke Wash (after 6 Feb 1806)
  14. Cromer to Hunstanton (after 6 Feb 1806)
  15. Fosdyke Wash to the Mouth of the Humber
  16. Mouth of the Humber to the River Ouse
  17. River Ouse to Flamborough Head
  18. Flamborough Head to the River Tees
  19. River Tees to North Shields
  20. North Shields to St Abb's Head
  21. Firth of Forth
  22. Coast of Angus
  23. Shetland Islands
  24. Isle of Wight
  25. Emsworth to Calshot Castle
  26. Calshot Castle to St Alban's Head
  27. St Alban's Head to Puncknowle
  28. Puncknowle to Teignmouth
  29. Teignmouth to the Rame Head
  30. The Rame Head to the Dodman
  31. The Dodman to Land's End
  32. Scilly Islands
  33. Chepstow to the Mouth of the Bristol Channel
  34. Kidwelly to Cardigan
  35. Hartland Point to Kingroad
  36. Upper part of the River Severn
  37. Holyhead and Anglesey
  38. Liverpool and its neighbourhood
  39. Workington to Whitehaven
  40. Land's End to Hartland Point

Irish Sea Fencible Districts, 1803 to 1810


  1. Malin Head to Horn Head
  2. Horn Head to Teeling Head
  3. Teeling Head to Donegal
  4. Ballyshannon to Killala
  5. Killala to Blacksod Bay
  6. Blacksod bay to Killery Harbour
  7. Killery Harbour to Greatman's Bay
  8. Greatman's Bay to Black Head
  9. Loop Head to Kerry Head
  10. Kerry Head to Blasket Island
  11. Blasket Island to Valencia
  12. Valencia to Dursey Island
  13. Dursey Island to Mizen Head
  14. Mizen Head to Galley Head
  15. Galley Head to Cork Island
  16. Cork Island to Youghal
  17. Youghal to Waterford
  18. Hook Tower to Arklow
  19. Arklow to Killney
  20. Donaghadee to Larne
  21. Howth to Ballriggan
  22. Dublin - Gun boats


  1. "Navy Board: Sea Fencibles Pay Lists". Kew, London: National Archives UK. 1798–1810. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  2. Philip, Mark; Rogers, Nicholas (2006). "The Sea Fencibles, Loyalism and the Reach of the State". Resisting Napoleon : the British response to the threat of invasion, 1797-1815. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 9780754653134.
  3. National Archives UK.
  4. National Archives UK.
  5. National Archives UK.
  6. National Archives UK.
  7. National Archives UK.
  8. National Archives UK.


  1. "Navy Board: Sea Fencibles Pay Lists". Kew, London: National Archives UK. 1798–1810. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  2. Philip, Mark; Rogers, Nicholas (2006). "The Sea Fencibles, Loyalism and the Reach of the State". Resisting Napoleon : the British response to the threat of invasion, 1797-1815. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 9780754653134.