Fate of Crew Taken as Prizes

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    Andrew T

      Hi, all.

      Was there a treaty or general practice concerning what one did with the crew of a captured prize?

      I’m half-aware about the Prize Court in reference to the ships taken, but what happened to the crew? Seems especially harsh if they were just thrown into prison.

      Peter Leech

        This depends as to the year.

        Originally, prisoners were exchanged as quickly as possible, occasionally simply with what amounted to IOU’s if one side had taken more POW’s than the other, and the arrangement was more or less a gentlemans agreement that the army/navy of the POW paid their captors reasonable expenses for bed and board.

        Very summarily, this system broke down during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars as the French came to the conclusion that they were capturing a small number of high value prisoners, whereas we were capturing a large number of low value prisoners. Therefore they refused to exchange anybody, and also refused to pay for feeding French prisoners being held in Britain thus transferring the economic burden of feeding a larger number of less valuable prisoners to UK PLC, so from that point then anybody captured on either side would have been thrown in prison for the duration unless they escaped.

        Paul Chamberlain is probably the expert, and has written a number of good books about POW’s held in Britain which are well worth a read if you are interested in the topic.

        Nicholas Blake

          As well as the prize money paid for the value of the ship and contents, the Admiralty paid a bounty of so much per head for each person alive at the beginning of the action (thus popularly known as head money). To get this, someone in the British ship had to find the most senior survivor and get a list of personnel. Clearly the Admiralty intended this to be paid for combatant men and boys, but the rules didn’t make this explicit, so after some actions everyone was recorded, including non-combatants such as women and children, and in a few cases they gave a narrative, which can be read in the head money papers in the National Archives at Kew. This is particularly true of Camperdown (the head money papers for the Nile are not there, if any one knows where they are please shout). Some of those can be found in Sam Willis’s “In the Hour of Victory”.

          Andrew T

            I see. Thank you.

            Would this also be the case for merchantmen crew, or civilian travelers that may be on a Atlantic crossing, for example?

            Michael D

              I did some work on prisoners from prizes and Navy vessels in the War of 1812

              –I’ll try and answer any questions

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