Navy Board
Navy Board
Type Board
Preceded by Council of the Marine
Country United Kingdom
Founded 1576
Abolished 1832
Headquarters Navy Office, London, England
Head Treasurer of the Navy (1576-1660)
Head Comptroller of the Navy (1660-1832)
Role Civil Administration of Royal Navy
Part of Department of Admiralty (1628-1832)
Succeeded by Department of Admiralty

The Navy Board was one of the first of the boards set up to administer the Royal Navy and was first established in 1546 as the Council of the Marine. In 1576 the council was renamed the Navy Board for most of its existence it based in the Navy Office. Its role was to organise the business of the Navy and advise the Lord Admiral, one of the Officers of State. Until the mid-17th century it covered all aspects of naval administration. But as various specialised departments also developed, the Navy Board concentrated on building and maintaining Navy ships and advising the Board of Admiralty. Members of the Navy Board tended to be professional men drawn from the service, either officers or former shipwrights. In 1832 the Board’s duties were absorbed by the Department of Admiralty.

1) History

The origins of the Navy Board first began to appear in the 15th century when the Keeper of the Kings or Clerk of the Kings Ships in 1414 the predecessor, then later subordinate office, of the Lord Admiral of England was joined by a Keeper of the Kings Storehouses in 1514. As management of the navy began to expand he was joined by a Clerk Comptroller 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 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. 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. Following the previous proposals the Council of the Marine 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.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 Office. In 1557 the Lieutenant of the Admiralty ceased to direct the council that role was now given to the Treasurer of the Navy. In 1576 the Council of the Marine was renamed the Navy Board. In the earlier part of its history it remained independent until 1628 when it became a subsidiary body of the Board of Admiralty now reporting to the First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1660 the Treasurer of the Navy ceased to direct the board and was replaced by the Comptroller who now held the new joint title of Chairman of the Board. Although a subordinate body of Admiralty Board, it still maintained its independence in relation to its role within the Royal navy until 1832. Following re-structuring proposals of the Naval Service made by Sir James Graham the Navy Board was finally abolished (along with its subsidiary boards for Sick and Hurt, Transport, and Victualling) and all of the functions were merged under the single responsibility of the Board of Admiralty with its administrative functions being dispersed among the Naval Lords.

2) Duties

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. In addition to the procurement of victuals (obtained from private contractors or "agents"), stores, supplies and services for the fleet and provision of ordnance items (sourced from the Office of Ordnance). It was also responsible for all civilian and naval pay, and for the appointment of junior officers and warrant officers, and had several other duties in addition.

3) Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy Board (1576-1660)

Senior Commissioner of the Navy Board

  1. Treasurer of Marine Causes later called the Treasurer of the Navy (1524-1835) he was also responsible for all Naval Finance he was superseded by the Comptroller as head of the Navy Board in 1660.

Principal Officers and Commissioners

  1. Clerk of the Kings Ships, later called Clerk of the Acts (1320-1660) he was responsible for the organisation of navy office, processing naval contracts and coordinating the secretarial side of the navy board's work.
  2. Clerk Comptroller of the Navy, (1512-1832) later called the Comptroller of the Navy he was in charge of Naval spending he also acted as Chairman of the Board from 1660.
  3. Surveyor and Rigger of the Navy later called the Surveyor of the Navy (1546-1660) he was responsible for the design of all warships
  4. Surveyor of Marine Victuals later called the General Surveyor of Victuals (1550-1679) he was responsible for managing the supply of food, beverages and other provisions for the Royal Navy (against protocol he was added under monarchs, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I).
  5. Master of Naval Ordnance, a specifically assigned officer and navy board liaison to the Office of Ordnance he was briefly a member from (1561-1569) and was responsible for the supply of naval ordnance for the navy.

Instrumental in the early administration of the Navy Board were usually between four and seven officials or "Principal Officers" though some were styled differently prior to 1660, Charles I added a fifth between 1625-1640 they included:. As defined by a set of Ordinances drawn up under Henry's successor, Edward VI, the Navy Board was given a high degree of autonomy while yet remaining subordinate to the Lord High Admiral until 1628. This - at times ambiguous - relationship with The Admiralty was an enduring characteristic of the Board, and indeed was one of the reasons behind its eventual demise in 1832.

4) Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy Board (1660-1796)

During the Commonwealth the business of both Navy Board and Board of 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.

Chairman of the Navy Board

  1. Comptroller of the Navy, (1660-1796) (chaired meetings of the Board and liaised with the First Lord of the Admiralty)

Principal Officers and Commissioners

  1. Surveyor of the Navy, (1660-1796)
  2. Treasurer of the Navy, (1660-1796)
  3. Clerk of the Acts of the Navy, (1660-1796)

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

  1. Comptroller of Treasurer Accounts, (1667-1796)
  2. Comptroller of Victualling Accounts, (1667-1796)
  3. Comptroller of Storekeepers Accounts, (1671-1796)
  4. Commissioners for Old Accounts, (1686-8)
  5. Commissioners for Current Business, (1686-8)
  6. Commissioners for Examining Accounts (Incurred), (1688-9)
  7. Deputy Comptroller of the Navy, (1793-1813)

5) Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy Board (1796-1832)

In 1796 the Board was reconstituted: the post of Clerk of the Acts was abolished, as were the three Controllers of Accounts. Henceforward, the Board would consist of the Controller and a Deputy Controller (both of whom were normally commissioned Officers), the Surveyor (usually a Master Shipwright from one of the Dockyards) and around seven other Commissioners (a mixture of officers and civilians) to whom no specific duties were attached. The Treasurer, though still technically a member of the Board, was (like the Dockyard Commissioners) seldom in attendance. 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 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.

Chairman of the Navy Board

  1. Comptroller of the Navy, Chairman of the Navy Board, (1796-1832)

Principal Officers and Commissioners

  1. Surveyor of the Navy, (1796-1832)
  2. Treasurer of the Navy, (1796-1832)
  3. Deputy Surveyor of the Navy, (1796-1832)
  4. Pay Commissioner of the Navy, (1796-1814).
  5. Inspector-General of Naval Works, (1807-1808), from 1796 to 1807 post holder reported to the Board of Admiralty
  6. Civil Architect and Engineer of the Navy, (1808-1812)
  7. Surveyor of Buildings, (1812-1832)
  8. Surveyor of Dockyards, (1813-1832).
  9. Accountant-General of the Navy, (1829–32)
  10. Storekeeper General of the Navy, (1829–32) [30]
  11. Deputy Comptroller of the Navy, (1829-1832)
  12. Superintendent of Transport, (1829-1831)

6) Subsidiary Boards of the Navy Board

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 these included:

  1. Victualling Board established (1683-1832), was responsible for providing naval personnel with food, drink and supplies.
  2. Sick and Hurt Board (established temporarily in times of war from 1653, then placed on a permanent footing from 1715, it amalgamated into the Transport Board from 1806) and was responsible for providing medical support services to the navy and managing prisoners of war.
  3. Transport Board established (1690-1724), then re-established in 1794, its was amalgamated into the Victualling Board in 1817), and 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 were overseen by the Navy Board)

7) Sources

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