The Procurement of Shipping by the Board of Ordnance during the American War, 1775-82

By David Syrett, published November 1995


During the American War British forces were fighting in North America, the West Indies and the Mediterranean. Responsibility rested with the Board of Ordnance to transport engineers and the Royal Regiment of Artillery along with their equipment and munitions to overseas destinations and to naval and military sites round Britain. To undertake these tasks the Board purchased or hired vessels, organising the business from their headquarters in Westminster and mainly using a network of contacts with shipowners, merchants and brokers in the City of London. Occasionally troops were sent as passengers on merchant ships. Examples are given of ships used, charter rates and methods of payment for different destinations and varying periods of time. Owners of chartered vessels were compensated for any lost by enemy action. The bulk of men and materials were sent on ships under long term time charters, the Ordnance Board paying higher charter rates than its chief rival the Navy Board, but hiring fewer ships – an annual average of 25 seagoing ships compared to the average of 322.5 hired by the latter board. Once the terms of a charter-party had been agreed, the ship was inspected, valued and fitted for service in the Thames. Crucially, its measured tonnage was assessed, using the formula enshrined in a 1773 Act of Parliament. The Board of Ordnance was able to obtain all the shipping it required during this period.

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Filed under: Atlantic | English Channel | North Sea | American Revolution | Irish Sea | Mediterranean | Caribbean
Subjects include: Administration | Logistics | Merchant Marines | Weapons

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