Admiralty Collection

The Admiralty records now at the National Maritime Museum, consist of the original orders from the Admiralty to the Navy Board from 1688-1815 (ADM/A & ADM/N& ADM/RP & ADM/Q & ADM/P & ADM/OT), and the Navy Board replies from 1733-1831 (ADM/B & ADM/BP & ADM/D & ADM/DP& ADM/F& ADM/FP). Orders to the Navy Board relating to transports during the period when there was no Transport Board were bound up separately as were those relating to the special appointment of General Bentham, as Inspector General of Naval Works, during the Napoleonic War. The Navy Board letters respecting the fitting of ships from 1804-1809 were separated from the general correspondence, and bound with a chronological index at the beginning. In addition to these main series of orders from the Admiralty to the Navy Board, there are some copies of orders for the Ticket Office from 1774-1815, and some loose papers relating to the Marine Office and a few orders for the Office of Stores (ADM/J&K).

The Admiralty orders to the Victualling Commissioners from 1707-1815 (ADM/C) are included in this collection, as well as the abstract of Admiralty orders from 1694-1819 (ADM/G) and the Victualling Board’s replies from 1703-1822 (ADM/H). The Admiralty orders to the commissioners for taking care of sick and wounded seamen from 1702-1806 form a complete series, supplemented by the Commissioners replies from 1742-1806 (ADM/E). Orders relating to prisoners of war were bound up separately and cover the years from 1743, some distinction being made for the different nationalities (ADM/M). Both these series of orders were continued when the Transport Boards took over the Commissioners; the former series has been preserved in this collection up to 1815 (ADM/ET), and the latter from 1796-99 (ADM/MT).

The Lieutenant’s logs which total 5,205 volumes are bound according to the name of the ship, some Captain’s logs being included (ADM/L). There are also bound up with some logs, accounts of expenses of paper and ticket books. The Lieutenant’s log was accompanied by a certificate from his captain stating that he had complied with the printed instructions and not been absent from his ship. These journals were deposited first in the Admiralty Office and a certificate was made out, for which the chief clerk received 2s 6d.’ though captains usually paid 5s 0d. The chief clerk then abstracted details of the voyage of each ship from her logs “specifying the day of her sailing - of her arrival at each port, her stay there and departure there from”. The logs were then passed to the Navy Office where the clerk of the acts made out certificates “to enable the lieutenants and masters to receive their wages”. It was also his duty to “arrange and keep the journals and log books of every ship that may be delivered of the proceedings from the time of such journals and log books”. The logs in this collection have been preserved from the time of Pepys until 1809, when the procedure for keeping logs was altered, and contained much useful information. The logs were kept according to the nautical calendar, which counted the day as starting at mid-day, until 1805 when the civil practice was adopted.

The only records for the period after 1832, which are included in this collection, are those of the Surveyor’s department for the years 1832-39. These letters, addressed to the Board of Admiralty, contain some interesting material on ship-building. There are also a number of volumes of papers relating to the preparation of naval estimates for the years 1849-1883, as far as the Victualling department was concerned.

Administrative / biographical background
The Admiralty records at the National Maritime Museum cover the administration of the Navy from 1688-1832 (when the Navy Board was abolished) in considerable detail. There are also a few records from 1832-1883. Together they consist of 7,497 bound volumes and a large mass of loose papers. The majority of orders and letters are original documents, often minuted, but there are a few volumes of indexes, minute and letterbook copies of correspondence. The collection includes over 5000 Lieutenants’ logs forwarded to the Navy Board in connection with the work of passing the Officers’ accounts. The administration of the Navy 1688-1832 was controlled by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and the Navy Board. With occasional exceptions, the number of Lords Commissioners varied between five and seven. According to the Admiralty patent, orders had to be signed by at least 3 members of the board, that number having authority “to be everything which belongs to the office of our Lord High Admiral”. Sometimes for greater speed, an order was signed and dispatched by the secretary, but it was followed by an order in due form as soon as the board met, back dated to cover action which had taken place on the secretary’s order. The Navy Board, which was set up by Henry VIII in 1546, was responsible for the building and repair of ships and the maintenance of the dockyards, as well as the appointment of warrant and junior officers. Its responsibilities were divided between four principal officers, resident in London. These were the Comptroller, the Surveyor and the Treasurer and the Clerk of the Acts, and the three dockyard commissioners at Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth. Extra commissioners were sometimes appointed. Within the organisation of the Navy Office, there were several departments, such as the Ticket Office, the Slop Office, the Office for Stores and the Marine Office, some of them being housed in separate buildings. In 1788 the staff of the Navy Office was five times as large as that of the Admiralty. The pressure of business caused by war was responsible for the creation of further departments, some of which were retained in the eighteenth century even in times of peace. A Board of Commissioners for Victualling was set up in 1683 and this body which usually consisted of seven commissioners remained responsible for the victualling of the navy until the reforms of 1832. The Commissioners for taking care of the sick and wounded seamen continued to function after the peace of 1714, though their number was reduced from four to two, and in the subsequent wars of the eighteenth century were also responsible for prisoners of war. In 1788 the latter function was transferred to the Transport Board, which had operated from 1690-1724 and was revived in 1794.This board took over the remaining duties of the commissioners for sick and wounded seaman in 1806, the number of its commissioners being increased then from four to six. The administration of public offices were made the subject of an inquiry in 1786 but the reports were not published until 1806. Some alterations were made at the end of the century and for a time the Navy Board was organised on the committee system, but this was found to be unsuccessful. In 1817 the number of boards was reduced to three, by the absorption of the Transport Board into the Victualling Board. The Admiralty Act of 1832 abolished the three boards, the Admiralty Boards, the Navy Board and the Victualling Board, and concentrated all authority in the Board of Admiralty. The dockyard commissioners were replaced by superintendents.

Record Details

Item reference: ADM; GB 0064
Catalogue Section: Public records: records of the central administration of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy
Date made: 1660-1883
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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