Navy Board

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The Navy Board (1660-1832)
Flag of the Navy Board 1801 to 1832.jpg
Flag of the Navy Board 1801 to 1832
Board overview
Formedorigin. 24 April 1546
4 July 1660
Preceding Board
Dissolved1 June 1832
JurisdictionKingdom of England Kingdom of England
Kingdom of Great Britain Kingdom of Great Britain
HeadquartersNavy Office
Board executive
Parent departmentAdmiralty

The Navy Board [1] and formerly known as the Council of the Marine[2] was the executive commission with responsibility for day-to-day civil administration of the Navy Office, Navy Royal and later Royal Navy between 1660 and 1832. The board was headquartered within the Navy Office.[3]


The origins of the Navy Board first began to appear in the 14th century office of the Keeper or Clerk of the King's Ships, a predecessor of, then later subordinate office, to the High Admiral of England. He was first of the individual Offices of the Clerks of the Kings Marine responsible for managing the Kings ships of the Navy Royal, but it would be two hundred years before he was joined by another clerk of the marine. the Keeper of the Kings Storehouse at Erith in 1512 [4]. As management of the navy began to expand he was joined by a Clerk Comptroller of the Navy in 1522, then later the Lieutenant of the Admiralty in 1544, then a Treasurer of Marine Causes in 1544 was added. A sixth officer was created, a Surveyor and Rigger of the Navy, in 1544, and finally a seventh officer called Master of Naval Ordnance also in 1545 [5] the group by January 1545 was already working as a body known as the Council of the Marine or King's Majesty's Council of His Marine [6]. In the first quarter of 1545 an official memorandum was outlined that proposed the establishment of a new organisation that would formalize a structure for administering the navy that would have a clear chain of command for executing the office[7]. Following the previous proposals the Navy Board was officially appointed by letters patent by Henry VIII on the 24 April 1546 it was initially directed by the Lieutenant of the Admiralty until 1557.[8] the board was charged with overseeing the administrative affairs of the navy (while directive, executive and operational duties of the Lord High Admiral remained with the Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office.[9] In 1557 the Lieutenant of the Admiralty ceased to direct the Navy Board that role was now given to the Treasurer of the Navy also known as the Senior Commissioner. In the earlier part of its history the Council of the Marine remained independent. In 1628 a new Board of Admiralty was established under the control of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Following the restoration of the English monarchy following the English civil war year and commonwealth period King Charles II reconstituted the council of the marine under a new name the Navy Board on 4 July 1660.[10] The Treasurer of the Navy then ceased to direct the new board and was replaced by the Comptroller who now held the new joint title of Chairman of the Board. In 1707 the Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office became a department of state called the Admiralty Department at which point the Navy Board became a subordinate body to the Board of Admiralty, but still maintained its independence in regard to its role in support of the Royal navy until 1832. Following re organisation proposals of the HM Naval Service made by First Lord of the Admiralty Sir James Robert George Graham the Navy Board was finally abolished (along with its subsidiary boards for Sick and Hurt, Transport, and Victualling) and all of its functions were assumed by a single authority of the Board of Admiralty, the navy board's former administrative functions were then distributed among the Naval Lords to superintend.

Flags of the Navy Board

Duties and responsibilities

The Navy Board overall responsibilities were the construction and maintenance of ships through the Royal Dockyards of Deptford, Woolwich, Portsmouth and Chatham; the operations of the dockyards and other naval establishments [11] . In addition to the procurement of victuals (obtained from private contractors or "agents"), stores, supplies and services for the fleet [12]and provision of ordnance items (sourced from the Office of Ordnance). It was also responsible for all civilian and naval pay [13], and for the appointment of junior officers and warrant officers, and had several other duties in addition.

  • Comptroller of the Navy: — He was in charge of Naval spending he also acted as Chairman of the Navy Board from 1660 until its abolition in 1832.
  • Treasurer of the Navy: — He was the Senior Commissioner of the board from 1545-1660 and controlled and directed all Naval finance - though in practice his responsibilities were later increasingly devolved to the Comptroller.
  • Surveyor of the Navy: — was in charge of Naval shipbuilding, ship design and running the Royal Dockyards.
  • Clerk of the Acts: — was in charge of the day-to-day running of the Board and the administration of its work and acted as Chief Secretary to the Navy Office.
  • Surveyor-General of Victuals: — was responsible for the administration of victualling yards and supply of food and beverages for the Royal Navy from 1550-1679, his office was abolished and replaced by a Victualling Board in 1683.
  • Comptroller of Storekeepers's Accounts: — the post was created to relieve the Comptroller of the Navy one of his duties
  • Comptroller of Treasurer's Accounts: — the post was created to relieve the Comptroller of the Navy one of his duties
  • Comptroller of Victualling Accounts: — the post was created to relieve the Comptroller of the Navy one of his duties

Note:The domain of the Treasurer of the Navy was independent of the Board; though the Board's Commissioners were required to authorize payments, all funds were held and issued by the Navy Pay Office (which was also known as the Navy Treasury).

Subsidiary Boards

As the size of the fleet grew, the Admiralty sought to focus the activity of the Navy Board on two areas: ships and their maintenance, and naval expenditure. Therefore, from the mid- to late-17th century, a number of subsidiary Boards began to be established to oversee other aspects of the Board's work.[14] these included:

  • The Victualling Board (1683-1832), was responsible for providing naval personnel with enough food, drink and supplies.
  • The Sick and Hurt Board (established temporarily in times of war from 1653, placed on a permanent footing from 1715, amalgamated into the Transport Board from 1806) and was responsible for providing were responsible for providing medical support services to the navy and managing prisoners of war.
  • The Transport Board (1690-1724, re-established 1794, amalgamated into the Victualling Board in 1817), was responsible for the provision of transport services and for the transportation of supplies and military equipment.

Each of these subsidiary Boards went on to gain a degree of independence (though they remained, nominally at least, overseen by the Navy Board).[15]

Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy

Throughout the period 1660-1832 the members of the Navy Board were known both singly and collectively as Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy. Until 1796 the Board was usually composed of officials of theoretically equal standing, some of whom supervised the conduct of specific areas of business, and some of whom, known as Extra Commissioners or Commissioners at Large, performed general duties.[16]

Commonwealth and Restoration period

During the Commonwealth of England the business of both Navy Board and Admiralty was carried out by a committee of Parliament. Following the Restoration, James, Duke of York (as Lord High Admiral) oversaw the reconstitution of the Navy Board. Alongside the aforementioned "Principal Officers" further officials were appointed to serve as "Commissioners" of the Navy, and together these constituted the Board. By tradition, commissioners were always Navy officers of the rank of post-captain or captain who had retired from active service at sea.[17]

Additional Commissioners added after 1666, who were soon given specific duties (so as to lessen the administrative burden placed on the Comptroller.

Hanoverian period

In 1796 the Board was reconstituted: the post of Clerk of the Acts was abolished, as were the three Controllers of Accounts. The Navy Office was then placed under the supervision three separate committees individually responsible for the Committee for the Accounts of the Navy, the Committee for the Correspondence of the Navy and the Committee for the Stores of the Navy. A fourth Committee was created in 1817 to conduct of Committee for the Transports and Victualling of the Navy following the abolition of the Transport Board each committee in turn was presided over by the Comptroller of the Navy the committee system was abandoned in 1829, and the Board was again composed of specialist officers with individual responsibility for the work formerly supervised by the Committees until 1832.[19] Following this reconstituation only the Comptroller and a Deputy Comptroller (both of whom were normally commissioned Officers), and the Surveyor (usually a Master Shipwright from one of the Dockyards) were retained.

The Treasurer, though still technically a member of the Board, was (like the Dockyard Commissioners) seldom in attendance.[20] In actual fact the post of Treasurer was by this stage little more than a sinecure; the main work of his department was carried out by its senior clerk, the Paymaster of the Navy.

Following the abolition of the office of Clerk of the Acts, the post of Secretary to the Navy Board was created; as well as overseeing the administrative department, the Secretary attended meetings of the Board and took minutes; but he was not himself a Commissioner and did not therefore have a vote.

List of Principal Officers and Commissioners 1796-1832 included:[21]

To all this lists must be added the Resident Commissioner's of the Navy with oversight of the Royal Navy Dockyards. Normally resident at their respective Dockyards, these Commissioners did not normally attend the Board's meetings in London; nevertheless, they were considered full members of the Navy Board and carried the full authority of the Board when implementing or making decisions within their respective Yards both at home and overseas.[20] Not every Dockyard had a resident Commissioner in charge, but the larger Yards, both at home and overseas, generally did (with the exception of the nearby Thames-side yards of Deptford and Woolwich, which were for the most part overseen directly by the Board in London).

After the abolition of the board in 1832 the duties of these Commissioners were taken over by commissioned officers: usually an Admiral-superintendent at the largest yards, or a Captain-superintendent at smaller yards.


Navy Office, Crutched Friars (the headquarters of the Council of the Marine (1656-1660, then Navy Board until 1788)

From the 1650s the Council of the Marine then later Navy Board, together with its staff of around 60 clerks, were accommodated in a large house at the corner of Crutched Friars and Seething Lane, just north of the Tower of London. Following a fire, the house was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. This new Navy Office provided accommodation for the Commissioners, as well as office space. Different departments were accommodated in different parts of the building; the rear wing (which had its own entrance on Tower Hill) housed the offices of the Sick and Hurt Board. The Victualling Office was also located nearby, on Little Tower Hill, close to its early manufacturing base at Eastminster. The Navy Treasury, where the Treasurer of the Navy was based, was located from 1664 in Broad Street (having moved there from Leadenhall Street). It was mainly known as the Navy Pay Office. In 1789, all these offices were relocated into the new purpose-built office complex of Somerset House.[23]


By the early nineteenth century, Members of Parliament had begun raising concerns at the cost of Navy Board operations and the obscurity of its record-keeping. On 15 February 1828 Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, established a Parliamentary Committee to review the Board's operations. The Committee, chaired by Irish MP Henry Parnell, was specifically charged with interpreting and reducing Navy Board costs. By the end of the year it had issued critical reports covering the Board's administration of naval pensions, half-pay, revenue, expenditure and debt. In particular, the Committee noted the Navy Board had long since abandoned financial controls; that it had instead "established a scale of expense greatly beyond what existed during former periods of peace," and that its operations tended to "exalt its own importance" over the needs of the public service as a whole.[24]

The Board's internal operations were also found wanting:

The ancient and wise control vested by our financial policy in the hands of the Treasury over all the departments connected with the Public Expenditure, has been in a great degree set aside. Although it is the [Navy Board] practice to lay the annual estimates before the Board of Treasury, the subsequent course of expenditure is not practically restrained ... Old modes of conducting public business, full of complexity and inconsistency, have too long been suffered to exist; official forms and returns have been multiplied; and the result has been an unnecessary increase of establishments.

— Sir Henry Parnell MP, Select Committee on the State of Public Income and Expenditure, End of Session Report, Volume Four, 1828.[24]

The Government's response was delivered on 14 February 1832, with a Bill to abolish both the Navy Board and the Victualling Board and merge their functions into the Board of Admiralty. This Bill was moved by Sir James Graham as First Lord of the Admiralty, who argued that the Boards had been "constituted at a period when the principles of banking were unknown," and were redundant in an era of greater Parliamentary oversight and regulation. An amendment proposed by First Sea Lord Sir George Cockburn suggested that Navy Board be preserved and only the Victualling Board abolished, but this was defeated by 118 votes to 50. The Bill itself was passed on 23 May 1832, with the Navy Board formally ceasing operations from 1 June.[24]

See Also


  1. "Research guide B6: The Royal Navy: Administrative records". Royal Museums Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site In London. Royal Museums Greenwich. 13 January 2003.
  2. Rasor, Eugene L. (2004). English/British naval history to 1815 : a guide to the literature. Westport (Conn.): Praeger. p. 265. ISBN 0313305471.
  3. Clarke, James Stanier; McArthur, John (Sep 2, 2010). The Naval Chronicle: Volume 25, January-July 1811: Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects. Cambridge University Press. p. 123. ISBN 9781108018647.
  4. Oppenheim, Michael (1988). A History of the Administration of the Royal Navy and of Merchant Shipping in Relation to the Navy from 1509 to 1660 with an Introduction Treating of the Preceding Period. Temple Smith. p. 84. ISBN 9780566055720.
  5. Ranft, Bryan (2002). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. Oxford University Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780198605270.
  6. Ranft, Bryan (2002). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. Oxford University Press. p. 31.
  7. Ranft, Bryan (2002). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. Oxford University Press. p. 31.
  8. Ehrman, John (2012). The Navy in the war of William III, 1689-1697 : its state and direction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9781107645110.
  9. "MOD historical summary" (PDF).
  10. Museum, South Kensington (1889). Catalogue of Ship Models and Marine Engineering in the South Kensington Museum: With Classified Table of Contents, and an Alphabetical Index of Exhibitors and Subjects. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 5.
  11. Dewar, David; Funnell, Warwick (2017). The Pursuit of Accountability: A History of the National Audit Office. Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780198790310.
  12. Dewar, David; Funnell, Warwick (2017). The Pursuit of Accountability: A History of the National Audit Office. Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780198790310.
  13. Dewar, David; Funnell, Warwick (2017). The Pursuit of Accountability: A History of the National Audit Office. Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780198790310.
  14. "Royal Museums Greenwich archives summary".
  15. "National Maritime Museum research guide".
  16. 'Principal officers and commissioners', in Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 7, Navy Board Officials 1660-1832, ed. J M Collinge (London, 1978), pp. 18-25. British History Online [accessed 26 March 2021].
  17. Rodger, N.A.M. (1986). The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. p. 34. ISBN 0870219871.
  18. Baugh, Daniel A. (1965). British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole. Princeton University Press. pp. 47–48. OCLC 610026758.
  19. Collinge, J.M. (1978). "Principal officers and commissioners. British History Online". London: University of London. pp. 18–25. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Collinge, J.M. "Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 7, Navy Board Officials 1660-1832". British History Online. University of London, 1978. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  21. Collinge, J. M. "Principal officers and commissioners British History Online". University of London, 1978. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  22. Admiralty, Great Britain (1834). The Navy List. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 136.
  23. "Somerset House: the Great Institutions".
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Bonner-Smith, D. (1945). "The Abolition of the Navy Board". The Mariner's Mirror. 31 (3): 154–159. doi:10.1080/00253359.1945.10658919.