The payment of Seamen's Wages by remittance and allotment etc. during the latter half of the 18th Century

The several acts of parliament passed on different occasions for the increase and encouragement of seamen in his Majesty's Navy, have greatly tended to augment the marine force of this realm ; upon which the security of these kingdoms, and the support and preservation of their trade and commerce do immediately depend. The increasing strength of our Navy having at different times made many additional alterations necessary, to the simple system originally established in its infancy for the payment of seamen's wages ; and the several acts passed in the reigns of King William, Queen Anne, and George the First, having been found by experience in a great measure


ineffectual to answer the benevolent purposes of protection and encouragement for which they were intended, it therefore, in the year 1758, excited the attention of Mr. Grenville, then Treasurer of the Navy, to prepare a bill for the consideration of parliament, which had for its object the repealing of former acts respecting the payment of seamen's wages in the Navy*, and consolidating more efficaciously the benefit and protection for which they were intended : as well as establishing some new regulations which time and circumstances appeared necessary to suggest. This bill accordingly passed into law*, and is entitled, "An Act for the Encouragement of Seamen employed in the Royal Navy, and for establishing a regular Method for the punctual, frequent and certain Payment of their Wages, and for enabling them more easily and readily to remit the same for the Support of their Wives and Families, and for preventing Frauds and Abuses attending such Payments." By this act Seamen, either at home or on foreign service, were provided with the means of remitting by bill a part of their wages for the support of their wives and families. Tickets were made out and transmitted to the Navy Office, which enabled their relations to receive immediately the wages of such as died abroad. Such modes were prescribed for witnessing the powers made by Seamen, as were expected to put a stop to fraud and forgery ; and the great object of all the regulations which it established and embraced, appears to have been to remove the difficulties, delays, and disappointments, which Seamen and their representatives encountered prior to that period in recovering the wages to which they were justly entitled. This act accordingly became the foundation of the system upon which Seamen's wages have since been paid. But after the experience of many years, more especially towards the conclusion of the late war, it was found, that the mode established for making and witnessing powers of attorney, and the want of proper regulations respecting Seamen's wills, were insufficient to guard against imposition and forgery ; which for some years after the conclusion of the war had become so much the practice among Seamen, that sums to a large amount were annually paid to fictitious authorities ; by which the public suffered in the first instance, and in the second individuals, who incurred heavy expences in proving the existence of forgeries in order to substantiate their own claims. Seamen were oppressed and disgusted by the disappointments they experienced, on finding their, wages paid to those who had no authority from them ; and the facility with which impositions were practised, was the occasion of many persons suffering public

* 31 Geo. II, c, 10.


punishment, by tempting them to commit frauds which appeared easy in the execution. To remove these evils a bill was in the year 1786, introduced into parliament by Mr. Dundas, establishing specific modes for executing Wills and powers of attorney in every situation in which a Seaman could be placed, and appointing an officer expressly for the purpose of examining and enquiring into the authenticity of these instruments : this was entitled * "An Act for the further preventing Frauds and Abuses attending the Payment of Wages, Prize Money, and other Allowances due for the Service of Petty Officers and Seamen on board any of his Majesty's Ships."

The regulations contained in this Act relative to making Wills and powers were easy in the execution, and by the experience of upwards of twelve years have been found nearly complete in their effect, having effectually stopped that system of fraud and imposition which had wasted the public money, distressed individuals, and created much discontent and dissatisfaction among the inferior classes of the Navy. Mr. Dundas, upon longer acquaintance with the different modes of payment practised in his office, found that the manner of witnessing seamen's Wills and powers was not the only point in which the act of 31 Geo. II. 6. 10. would admit of being amended ; but by the effect of proper regulations a wide field was left for improvement, and much was still possible to be added to the comfort and convenience of Seamen and their families, without increasing the expenses of the public.

With these laudable impressions Mr. Dundas, in the Session of 1792 brought forward three separate bills, which, from the liberal and benevolent objects of improvement they embraced, met with no difficulty in passing.

The first was entitled "An Act explaining and amending an Act passed in the 26th Year of the Reign of his present Majesty, and for further extending the Benefits thereof to Petty Officers and Seamen, Non-commissioned Officers of Marines and Marines serving or who may have served on board any of his Majesty's Ships;" the principal objects of which are,

1st. Extending to marines serving in the Navy the liberty of remitting a part of their wages to their families ; to allow them the privilege of being paid by tickets, and other advantages afforded by the act of 31 Geo. II. to Seamen only :

2d. Enabling Seamen who may be removed abroad from one Ship to another, and perhaps afterwards to a third or forth, to receive upon their arrival at any port in England, where wages are paid, all the pay to which they are entitled for their past services ; to empower such as are disabled in the Service to receive their pay from

* 26 Geo III 6.
32 Geo. III.
Stat. 32 Geo. III.


the revenue officer nearest to the place where they arrive, or where they reside, without obliging them to travel, as has hitherto been the case from a remote part of the kingdom to London, to Portsmouth, to Plymouth, or to Chatham ; and without making them wait till the arrival of the different ships in which they had successively served, which might be often kept on foreign service for many years ; enabling then likewise to receive their pay, without waiting for the return of their ships, if left on shore at hospitals :

3d. To stop the practice too common with officers of the Navy, of anticipating their pay, by assigning to agents and others, not only such part as was due at the time of the transaction, but also such as they expected to receive for their future services ; thereby extending to officers a principle which had been applied by the Act 31 Geo. II. to Seamen only :

4th. To stop the practice of taking Seamen out of the service by fraudulent arrests, still continued, notwithstanding the regulations of former acts ; by those acts Seamen were exempted from arrests for any sum under 20 ; they were trusted therefore till their debts exceeded that amount, and then imprisoned ; by purposely granting fictitious notes also, and procuring themselves to be arrested thereon, Seamen often avoided going on particular duties, to the detriment of the public service.

The second entitled * , "An Act for explaining and amending an Act passed in the 26th Year of the Reign of his present Majesty, and for further extending the Benefits thereof to Petty Officers and Seamen, Non-commissioned Officers of Marines, and Marines serving, or who may have served on board any of his Majesty's Ships." The objects of this Act relate principally to the wives, the families, and relations of Seamen, enabling them in the most remote situations to receive their allowances from the public, without the assistance or interference of agents or attornies ; and by making the money pass immediately from the public purse into the hands of the party entitled thereto, to put a stop to the heavy deductions and abatements which are almost always made when a third person is employed : this is done by means of remittances, and is also an extension of a principle introduced by former acts. Under the regulations of this Act, the widow, the child, the father, or other relation, the person entitled by will, or even the fair creditor of deceased Seamen, who have served in the Navy, has only to make application by letter to the Treasurer of the Navy, stating his connexion or relation to the deceased, and the nature of his expectations from his estate ; and desiring that all the wages and allowances due may be remitted to him, at whatever place he finds most convenient. No acquaintance with the proceedings or forms of office is necessary. In consequence of the first application

* Stat. 32 Geo. III. 6.


the necessary papers and vouchers are sent to be executed ; and as soon after as the steps for examination can be taken, and the justness of the claim is admitted, a Bill is sent for the clear balance due, payable by the revenue officer most convenient to the party, without fee, deduction, or abatement. This Act establishes several regulations long found necessary and secretly practised in the payment of the Navy, in order to prevent desertions ; but which having no other authority than the practice of office, were incapable of being enforced ; and likewise some salutary regulations relative to the more certain and speedy payment of prize money, and other regulations.

The third Act extends the benefits of all the former acts to Seamen and their families who reside in Ireland, gives them the same powers of remitting wages and pensions to themselves and families, and puts them in every respect upon the same footing with Seamen and their families who reside in Great Britain. The last Act passed on this occasion, (which, while it is most beneficial to the interest of that invaluable class. of men for whose benefit it was proposed, combines the wisest policy with that humanity, liberality, and gratitude, for which Great Britain has ever been distinguished towards her brave defenders,) is entitled, "An Act for carrying into Execution his Majesty's Order in Council of the 3d day of May 1797, for an Increase of Pay and Provisions to the Seamen and Marines serving in his Majesty's Navy; and to amend so much of an Act made in the 35th Year of the Reign of his present Majesty, as enables Petty Officers and Seamen, Non-commissioned Officers of Marines, and Marines, to allot Part of their Pay far the Maintenance of their Wives, Children, or Mothers."

The act is founded upon his Majesty's Order in Council for an increase to the allowance of wages and provisions for the petty officers, Seamen, landsmen, and marines ; and for a continuation of the pay of all petty officers, Seamen, landsmen, and marines, who may hereafter be wounded in action with the enemy, until their wounds shall be healed, or some other provision shall be made for them. By the first clause of this Act the following additions are made to the wages -viz. five shillings and sixpence per month in addition to the wages of the petty officers and able Seamen ; an addition of four shillings and sixpence per mouth to the wages of landsmen ; and to the marines when embarked and serving on board his Majesty's Ships, the allowances usually called consolidated allowances, made to marines when serving on shore-viz. to serjeants, corporals, and drummers, at the rate of two-pence, and to privates at the rate of twopence farthing per day ; and with respect to provisions, the full allowance is to be issued to the crews of

* 37. Geo. III. 53.


his Majesty's ships, without any deduction whatsoever on account of leakage or waste.

Thus has the wisdom of the British Legislature increased the comforts of Seamen as far as relates to wages and provisions ; but that wisdom stopped not here, since by an humane regulation we find it enacted in the second clause of this Act "That all petty officers, able Seamen, landsmen, and marines, who may hereafter be wounded in action with the enemy, shall receive the full amount of their wages and allowances until their wounds shall be healed ; or until, being declared incurable, they shall receive a pension from the Chest at Chatham, or be admitted into the Royal Hospital at Greenwich."

The third section empowers the Commissioners of his Majesty's Navy to direct the Treasurer of the Navy, or any receiver general of land tax, collector of customs, or collector of excise, or clerk of the cheque, to whom an allotment shall have been made pursuant to the Act of 35 Geo. III. c. 28, to increase the allowance to the wives or mothers of petty officers or Seamen, non commissioned officers of marines or marines, in a proportion equal to half the increased pay provided by this act ; and which shall thereupon be paid in the same manner as if such declaration and order of allotment had been originally, according to the rate of half the pay of such petty officers, Seamen and marines, as by this Act is provided. This calculation is to be made as to be nearly equal as may be to half the pay, and to be calculated according to a schedule annexed to the Act.

From the brief view we have given of this subject, taking also into consideration the flourishing state of The Navy, it may be justly inferred, that the many salutary laws and regulations which have from time to time been wisely framed for the encouragement of Seamen in the Royal Navy, for their government when on board, and for conferring privileges and rewards on them during and after service, have now been raised to an higher degree of excellence than is known to other States : it is ever consistent with the sound policy of a free and maritime Nation, most assiduously to continue to cultivate every measure, which at the same time that it adds to the comfort of our brave Mariners, reminds them that their Services are duly appreciated by their country.


Source : Naval Chronicle, vol II

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