Navy Office
Navy Office
Type Government Office
Preceded by Council of the Marine
Country United Kingdom
Founded 1576
Abolished 1832
Headquarters Somerset House, Whitehall, London, England
Head Clerk of the Acts (1660-1796)
Head Second Secretary to the Admiralty (1796-1832)
Succeeded by Comptroller of the Navy
Role Naval Administration
Part of Department of Admiralty
Succeeded by Department of Admiralty

The Navy Office and previously known as the Council of the Marine or Council of the Marine Causes was the government office charged with responsibility for day-to-day civil administration of the Navy Royal, (1576-1707) and then Royal Navy, (1707-1832). It contained all the members of the Navy Board but the day-to-day management of the Navy Office was the responsibility of the Clerk of the Acts then later the Second Secretary to the Admiralty. It was one of two government offices (the other being the Department of Admiralty) they were jointly responsible for directing naval affairs. In 1832 following reforms of the Naval Service the Navy Office was abolished all of its functions and staff were merged within the Admiralty.

1) History

The Navy Office occupied various sites in the vicinity of Tower Hill prior to 1654. At this time the office moved to a building at the junction of Crutched Friars and Seething Lane. This building was burnt down in 1673 but a new office on the same site was completed in 1682. The Navy Office remained at Tower Hill until 1786 when it was moved to more spacious accommodation at Somerset House. The Navy Board was composed of sea officers and civilians known as the 'Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy'. The Comptroller of the Navy presided over the Board, generally superintended the business of the Navy Office, and was responsible for the offices dealing with bills, accounts and wages; though theoretically of equal standing, the Comptroller tended to exercise seniority over his colleagues owing to the variety of business which he conducted. The Clerk of the Acts arranged the business of the Board and conducted its correspondence. The Surveyor, appointed from among the Master Shipwrights at the dock-yards, examined all survey reports on ships at the yards, considered what to repair, was responsible for the design and construction of ships and ensured the yards had sufficient stores and equipment. The Comptrollers of Victualling Accounts, of Storekeepers' Accounts and of Treasurers' Accounts respectively examined the accounts of bills made out by the Victualling Hoard, of the stores received in the dockyards and of the money received and paid by the Treasurer of the Navy. In 1796 the offices of Clerk of the Acts and the three Comptrollers of Accounts were abolished and the Board reconstituted, the business of the Navy Office being placed under the supervision of three Committees, of Correspondence, Accounts and Stores. Sir Charles Middleton (q.v.) and Sir Thomas Byam Martin (1773-1854) each held the office of Comptroller. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) and Charles Sergison (1654-1732) each held the position of Clerk of the Acts whilst notable Surveyors included Sir Thomas Slade (d.1771) and Sir Robert Seppings (1767-1840). The number of clerks in the Navy Office fluctuated according to the pressure of business and especially to whether the country was at war. The clerical establishment nevertheless grew steadily from the time of the Restoration until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Until 1796 the great majority of clerks were employed in one of eight Offices: the Offices for Bills and Accounts and for Seamen's Wages, the Ticket Office (q.v.), the Surveyor's Office, the Clerk of the Acts Office, the Offices for Examining Treasurer's Accounts, for Examining Victualling Accounts and for Examining Storekeepers' Accounts. The reorganization after 1796 involved the formation of several new offices: a Secretary's Office in 1796, an Office for Stores in 1796, an Allotment Office in 1797, a Contract Office in 1803 and an Office for Foreign Accounts in 1807. In 1808 the Naval Works Department was transferred to the Navy Office to become until 1812 the Office of the Architect and Engineer. A Ticket and Wages Branch was formed in 1829. In 1832 the Navy Office and subsequently the Navy Board was abolished its functions were then transferred to the Department of Admiralty under supervision of the Board of Admiralty.

2) Organisation and structure of the Navy Office


The Navy Office was headquartered at Crutched Friars shown here from 1656 to 1787.

3) Headquarters

From the 1650s the Board, together with its staff of around 60 clerks, was 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 was based, was located from 1664 in Broad Street (having moved there from Leadenhall Street). It was also known as the Navy Pay Office. In 1789, all these offices were relocated into the new purpose-built office complex of Somerset House. The office contained all the members of the Navy Board but the day-to-day management of the Navy Office buildings and its staff was administered by the Clerk of the Acts then later the Second Secretary to the Admiralty.

3.1) The Navy Board

The first of the boards set up to administer the Royal Navy was the Navy Board, established in 1546 in the reign of Henry VIII. Its job 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 Admiralty.Material in this series covers finance, medicine, the hospitals at Haslar and Stonehouse, transports, shipbuilding, pre-repair ship surveys (often with cost estimates), disciplinary matters, dockyard industrial relations, and experiments in preserving ship timbers and seamen’s health. There are also lists of ships in commission, parliamentary estimates, Navy debts, accounts of the Course of the Navy (navy bills) and schemes for disbursing parliamentary grants.

3.2) Key Officials of the Navy Office (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-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 Ordnance Office 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 Office 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.

3.3) Key Officials of the Navy Office (1660-1796)

During the Commonwealth 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.

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)

3.4) Key Officials of the Navy Office (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.[28] 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)

4) 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 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)

5) Components of the Navy Office


The Navy Office was headquartered at Somerset House shown here, the Strand, London, England from 1787 to 1832.

The Navy Office was made up of a number of specific departments and offices

5.1) Departments

  1. Accounts Department
  2. Naval Works Department
  3. Payments Department
  4. Stores Department

5.2) Offices

  1. Allotment Office
  2. Bill Office
  3. Contract Office
  4. Draftsmen Office
  5. Fee Office
  6. Office for Examining Storekeepers’ Accounts
  7. Office for Examining Treasurers Accounts
  8. Office for Examining Victualling Accounts
  9. Office for Foreign Accounts
  10. Office of Bills and Accounts
  11. Office of Seamen's Wages
  12. Assistant Clerk of the Acts and Secretary to the Navy Board (1680-1832)
  13. Paymaster of Widows Pensions
  14. Paymaster of the Marines
  15. Superintendent of Transports
  16. Slop Office
  17. Ticket Office

5.3) Services

  1. Transport Service

6) Autonomous Components of the Navy Office

  1. Navy Pay Office
  2. Sick and Hurt Board
  3. Transport Board
  4. Victualling Board

7) Commissioners of the Navy at Dockyards

There were other Commissioners of the Navy who had oversight of all Royal Navy Dockyards though they normally resident at their respective yards, these Commissioners did not normally attend Navy Board meetings in London; nevertheless, as full members of the Navy Board they carried the full authority of the Board when implementing or making decisions within their respective yards both within the United Kingdom and overseas. 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 naval officers: usually an Admiral-Superintendent at the largest yards, or a Captain-Superintendent at smaller yards.

7.1) United Kingdom and Ireland Dockyards and Victualling Yards

  1. Portsmouth Dockyard, (1496- still active)
  2. Woolwich Dockyard,(1512-1832)
  3. Deptford Dockyard, (1513-1869)
  4. Erith Dockyard, (1514-1521)
  5. Chatham Dockyard, (1567-1983)
  6. Harwich Dockyard, (1652-1829)
  7. Sheerness Dockyard, (1665-1960)
  8. Plymouth Dockyard, (1689-1843) renamed Devonport Dockyard.
  9. Pembroke Dockyard, (1815-1947)
  10. Portland Dockyard, (1845-1959)
  11. Devonport Dockyard, (1843-still active)
  12. Haulbowline Dockyard, I(1869-1923)
  13. Rosyth Dockyard, (1909-still active)
  14. Dover Dockyard, (1913-1945)
  15. Invergordon Dockyard (1916-1945)
  16. Scapa Flow Dockyard (1939-1945)

Other minor yards (with some permanent staff and minor repair/storage facilities, but without dry docks etc.) were established in a number of locations over time, usually to serve a nearby anchorage used by Naval vessels.

  1. Deal Dockyard, (1672- )
  2. Falmouth Dockyard
  3. Great Yarmouth Dockyard
  4. Kinsale Dockyard, Cork, Ireland, (1694-1805) and supply base
  5. Leith Dockyard
  6. Milford Haven Dockyard, (1797-1814) shipbuilding and repairs transferred to Pembroke Dockyard

7.2) International Dockyards and Victualling Yards

  1. Port Royal Dockyard, Jamaica, (1675-1729, 1749-1905)
  2. Cadiz Dockyard, (1694)
  3. Gibraltar Dockyard, Gibraltar, (1704-1984)
  4. Port Mahon Dockyard, Menorca, Spain, (1708-1802)
  5. Antigua Dockyard, (1728-1882)
  6. Port Antonio Dockyard, Jamaica, (1729-1749)
  7. Halifax Dockyard, Canada, (1759-1905)
  8. Naval Island Naval Shipyard, Canada, (1763-1822)
  9. Barbados Dockyard, (1779-1783, 1810)
  10. Kingston Dockyard, Canada, (1788-1853)
  11. Malta Dockyard, (1791-1979)
  12. Simons Town Dockyard, Simon's Town, South Africa, (1790-1898)
  13. York Naval Shipyard, Canada, (1793-1813)
  14. Ajaccio Dockyard, Ajaccio, Corsica, (1794-1799)
  15. Amherstburg Dockyard, Canada (1796-1813)
  16. Madras Dockyard, India, (1796-1813) staff and work transferred to Trincomalee.
  17. Cape of Good Hope Dockyard, (1808-1822)
  18. Bermuda Dockyard, Bermuda, (1809-1951)
  19. Bombay Dockyard, India, (1813-1947)
  20. Trincomalee Dockyard, Ceylon, (1813-1957)
  21. Ascension Dockyard, (1816-1922)
  22. Penetanguishene Naval Yard, Canada, (1834-1856)
  23. Esquimalt Naval Dockyard, Canada, (1842-1909)
  24. Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, Australia, (1856-1913)
  25. Garden Island Naval Yard, Sydney, Australia, (1858-1913)
  26. Hong Kong Dockyard, Hong Kong, China, (1859-1959)
  27. Wei Hai Wei Dockyard, Weihaiwei, China, (1898-1940)

8) Sources

  1. Wikipedia/Navy Board

9) Attribution

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