Clerks in the Navy - late Acting Pursers - Complaints of Unfairness in Comparison with other officers serving at the end of hostilities

20 Sep 1816


After a period of creditable servitude, in different pasts of the globe, of from 5 to 11 years each, with the same prospect of promotion held out to us as to other classes of officers, and which, at the general peace, was so liberally dispensed to each class, the Pursers and Clerks excepted, a cruel Order in Council cuts off at once our hopes : we are, however, subsequently appointed to act as pursers ; this encourages hope again ; yet at the termination of the war, we are discharged, without recompense, after having in vain (we fear) exerted ourselves for years on foreign stations, to attain that rank in the service to which many have been promoted without the slightest superior pretensions (in fact some at the time, of their appointment having never been actually at sea), and with the most earnest wish to earn a living, are unable to procure employ from the prejudices mercantile men entertain respecting our supposed irregular habits.

Thus abandoned by that Board which ought to protect us, and eyed suspiciously by those of whom we ask employ, our very life becomes burdensome - we have in vain memorialized the Admiralty, and used every humble mode of entreaty that could be devised : our memorial of the 26th March last was received by their Lordships, who directed the sending in our acting order 26th April. This being generally the prelude to promotion, we trusted their Lordships intended granting us the relief we so humbly implored ; we were, however, kept in a painful state of anxiety and suspense until the 8th August, when we obtained an interview with Sir G. Hope at the Admiralty, who informed us, we have nothing to expect ; their lordships cannot assist us, though they acknowledge the severity of the case.

One of the memorialists, W. J. Winnard, has been three times acting purser, has served nearly 11 years, and is also reduced to a crippled state, by wounds received in a desperate action with a French privateer, in which the Lieutenant and greater part of the crew were killed or wounded. For his conduct on this occasion, Mr. W. received a reward of 25 from the Patriotic Fund, and a pension for his wound of 12 per annum from Greenwich : this pittance was, after three years (Mr. W. being in the same crippled state) ; reduced by the Admiralty to 10 per annum;

No other acting appointment in the navy has the same degree of responsibility attached to it as the purser, he being compelled, previous to his receiving an acting order, to give security for the faithful discharge of his duty to the amount of 400 for a vessel of the lowest class, which bond remains in full force, even though the person is discharged from the service, as in our case.

The Admiralty say, they know not how to draw the line - which claim to admit, and which to reject ; this is readily answered ; say, those who have acted as pursers, passed an examination, and served, say 3 or 4. years.

They plead, the Order in Council restricts them : why appoint acting pursers subsequently ? they were liable to losses, &c. as other officers ; why should they be totally excluded from promotion ? if their conduct bad been in any way reprehensible, they would not dare make this appeal.

Their Lordships have not even condescended to give us an answer.


To his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, and the Right Hon. the Privy Council.

The Memorial of the undersigned, late Acting-Pursers in the Royal Navy, showeth,

Your Memorialists. after a long period of servitude, during which time they have always exerted themselves zealously to perform the several duties expected from them, so as to merit the approbation of their superior officers, which their passing certificates and testimonials of character, already laid before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, testify ; and having been recommended by their respective captains, your Memorialists have been appointed acting pursers on foreign stations, as a reward for their long servitude and good conduct.

In consequence of the late Order in Council, directing that no additional pursers shall be appointed, if the number already on the list exceed the number of ships, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty cannot confirm your Memorialists to the rank they have been acting in, or render them any relief ; they are, therefore, excluded from enjoying any provision, and are without hope of future advancement.

Your Memorialists also beg to represent that, during the whole course of their servitude, they have on all occasions shared the dangers and privations of a naval life in general with other classes of officers, and have been liable to heavy expenses during such service, having trusted that, at the termination of the war, they could not be left wholly unprovided for.

From the small number of ship's in commission your Memorialists have not been enabled to procure situations as clerks, or of gaining a livelihood. Destitute of the means of support, and severely distressed your Memorialists presume to implore relief, and to solicit that their peculiar case may be taken into consideration ; and humbly entreat that your Royal Highness and Council will be pleased to direct a relaxation of the order to Council may take place to their favour, that your Memorialists may be promoted to the rank of pursers in the Royal Navy ; and, as in duty bound, they will ever pray.

Names No. of years in the service. Capacity Ships Other claims to promotion
John Winnard 11 Mids., clerk, acting purser Culloden, Prometheus, Chesapeake, Florida, Terror, Crippled by wounds received in action.
Wm. M'Master 8 Clerk, acting purser Ringdove, Intrepid, Hazard, Superb, Terror, Levant

acting Purser
Cast away in the Statira, February 27, 1815, and lost the whole of his effects
Wm. Henderson 5 Clerk, acting purser Leyden, Hamadryad, Prometheus Appointed acting June 22, 1814, before the Order in Council took place.
John Hearn 3 Sec's clerk, acting purser Hibernia (with V. A. Sir S. Smith), Blossom Appointed May 22, 1814 before the Order in Council,
Thos. Collington 7 A.B. and clerk Lilly, Theban, Cornwallis. Passed examination June, 1814.
John Armstrong 3 Clerk, acting purser Rhin, Lyra, Asia, Tonnant, acting purser to the garrison of Tangier Island. Appointed by Sir A. Cochrane, Sept. 6, 1814
John Irving 8 Clerk, sec., acting purser Salvador del Mundo Defiance, Northumberland, La Hogue, San Domingo, Asia, Tonnant, Forth, Superb, and acting purser of the Florida and Pylades, on the North American station. Passed examination 0ct. 1819, 9 months before the Order in Council took effect ; was appointed acting purser of the Florida 2 months before the date of it, and subsequently of the Pylades ; served as Sir H. Hotham's clerk, while he commanded the Defiance and Northumberland ; and as his secretary, while he held the appointment of Captain of the fleet on the North American station, and while he served on that station and in the Channel fleet, as commodore and as rear-admiral ; comprising a period of 7 years and 4 months.
T. F. Matthews 9 Mids. A.B., clerk, acting purser Pylades, Paulina, Endymion, Salsette Appointed acting purser June 18, 1812, before. the Order in Council took place; and passed examination, Sept. 27, 1813.
Alex. Cooke 4 A.B., mids., clerk, act. pur. Amaranthe, Venerable, Spider, Swinger  
Nich. Nickinson 5 Clerk, clerk and act. Purs. Encounter, Phbe Wrecked and made prisoner ; appointed acting purser Oct. 10, 1813, before the Order in Council 9 months, and a death vacancy, and took American frigate Essex. while acting in the South-Seas, passed Aug 4, 1815 ; 15 months acting.
Thos. Field 7 Clerk, sec.'s clerk, act. pur. Comet, Columbine (Rear-admiral Durham), Spider Passed examination Oct. 15, 1813 ; appointed acting May 22, 1815

Mr. Curwen presented a Petition from John Wheeler, late Acting Purser in the Navy, stating that he had been in the service ever since the year 1805 ; that in 1812 he had been wounded at the attack of a French privateer, by a gun-shot, which had shattered his knee ; that as a reward for his exertions, on that occasion, he had been promoted to the rank of Acting Purser; but that, in consequence of a new regulation, which limited the number of Acting Pursers on half-pay, he was left out. He therefore prayed to be restored to his rank, in order to enjoy the benefit of the half-pay.

Mr. Croker said, the ground of the regulation, by which the petitioner, and many hundreds more, were affected, was economy : if the door was once thrown open, they must all receive half-pay. He had no objection, however, to receive the petition, which was then read, and ordered to lie on the table. Naval Chronicle Jan-Feb 1817.

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