Life in the Navy Great Guns and Small Arms Pay and Prize Money
The Impress Service Ships and Tactics Crime and Punishment
Frigate Warfare Patronage and Promotion Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of the Nile An eyewitness at Trafalgar  Victories and Casualties


Pay and Prize Money

People were well aware of the poor conditions aboard ships of this period, and a large part of the crew was made up of some less than willing volunteers and 'pressed' men. Poverty no doubt played a large part in encouraging many men to join the Navy. But what induced the better off to go to sea?

In 1708 the British government enacted the 'Cruizer and Convoys Act'. One of its effects was to formalize the process of prize taking, giving practically all the money gained from the capture of enemy vessels to the captors 'for the better and more effectual encouragement of the Sea Service'. Every prize appeared before the High Court of Admiralty for 'condemnation'.
It laid down exact regulations for dividing the proceeds among the various interested parties.The Act was altered in 1808 changing the distribution of prize money.

Distribution of Prize Money
RANKpre1808 SHAREpost1808 SHARE
CAPTAINS of Marines,Lieutenants,Master and Physician, = share in1/81/8
LIEUTENANTS of Marines,Secretary of Admiral,Principal Warrant Officers, Masters Mates,Chaplain, = shares in1/81/8
MIDSHIPMEN, Inferior Warrant Officers, Principal Warrant Officers Mates, Marine Sergeants, = shares in1/84/8
THE REST = shares in2/8
*Flag Officers to have one of Captain's Eighths.
**Flag Officers to have one third of Captain's share.

Appointment to one of the well-known prize money commands would mean an almost automatic fortune. Flag officers could hope to gain sums well in excess of 1,000,000 at todays values. Sir Hyde Parker was reported to have realised 200,000 (worth many times that now) when he was in command in the West Indies.

For the young gentlemen, often 2nd or 3rd sons who inherited nothing from their family, who decided to make a career at sea prize money was a useful bonus. Nelson often bemoaned his lack of prize money, being posted to ships away from good prize areas and, in later years, the success of his fleet meant there were precious few prizes to be had.

Prize money was handled by Prize Agents, and payment was often not prompt, sometimes taking years to be paid. This caused much frustration to captains and crews but earned the Agents large sums in interest.

Annual Pay

(slightly abbreviated from Steel's list of the Royal Navy for Nov. 1814.)
. s. d.
. s. d.
. s. d.
Captain of 1st Rate(complement 837)
down to
802 0 280 4 0721 16 2
Captain of 6th Rate(complement135)284 7 928 8 9255 19 0
Commander of Sloop,Bomb,etc(complement 121)
down to
272 19 727 5 11245 13 4
Commander(complement 75 and under)250 2 1125 0 3225 2 8
Lieutenant commanding Prison Ship137 4 813 1 8124 3 0
Lieutenant in Flagship128 4 511 14 11116 9 6
Lieutenant in other Ships112 4 210 7 8100 15 0
Master of 1st Rate
down to
172 12 817 5 3155 7 5
Master of Sloop91 10 06 4 685 5 6
Second Master,Line of Battleship78 17 54 6 774 10 10
Second Master,Gun Brigs,Cutters,etc67 9 32 12 364 17 0
Surgeon (20 years and upwards)
down to
322 8 932 4 10290 3 11
Surgeon (under 6 years)178 5 317 16 6160 8 9
Assistant Surgeon (qualified)117 13 010 13 0107 10 0
Assistant Surgeon (not qualified)90 5 66 0 984 4 9
Carpenter of 1st Rate
down to
96 9 66 19 689 10 0
Carpenter of Sloop48 13 6Nil48 13 6
Gunner, Boatswain, Purser* of 1st Rate
down to
83 12 05 0 677 11 6
Gunner, Boatswain, Purser* of Sloop48 13 6Nil48 13 6

Nett Annual pay is after the deductions of 3 pence per pound for the Widows Fund, the shilling per month to the Chest, and Sixpence per month for the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.
Income tax was Two shillings in the pound on incomes over 150, graded to nil for incomes under 50.

*At the start of the Revolutionary Wars the Purser had not been paid a salary.They were expected to make thier money from the sale of certain goods, such as tobacco,on board ship and when they bought in supplies for the ship. They effectively had a monopoly on board ship and could and did exploit this for profit. To the men the Purser was often the most despised man on board.
To get their posting they had to lodge a surity with the Admiralty of 1400 for appointment to a First rate down to 400 for a Sixth rate ship, they were responsible for the ships stores and the Admiralty were taking no chances. The purser acted as a 'Man of Business' and had to account to the Victualling Board for the distribution of his stores. It was a complicated and thankless job, and it was every pursers fear that he would be 'cast into debt'. Although strictly illegal the Navy turned a blind eye to the pursers practice of issuing stores at the rate of 14 ounces to the pound, allowing the purser one eighth for wastage. This was one of the ways that the purser could hope to make a profit. One of the main demands of the sailors that mutineed at Spithead and The Nore was that they be issued their full pound.

Thomas Rowlandsons cartoon portrayal of a Purser (opens in a new window)
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