How did officers and men receive their pay in Nelsons Navy?

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    Malcolm Lewis

      Having just re-read accounts of Captain Cook’s voyages which took as many as three years before he returned home, I am interested to know how and when officers and men received their pay during these long absences. Especially how their families survived whilst the breadwinners were away.
      Officers may have had bank accounts but seamen would not have done so. One reads of the Portsmouth “bum-boat ladies” going aboard on pay days to help “relieve” sailors of their pay.
      When I lived in Hull, I witnessed trawlermen’s wives waiting on the jetty when the trawlers returned from the Arctic waters to make sure they got a share of their husband’s wages to pay the bills before many of the men disappeared to the bright lights of London.

      David Hepper

        The short answer is that they did not receive their pay during long absences abroad.
        According to Rodger (The Wooden World; London 1986), the principle of pay for officers and ratings essentially remained the same through the 18th Century. When a ship ended her commission, the pay books were made up and the ships company was paid, hence the term ‘paying-off’. It was also the practice to pay a ship just before they sailed for an overseas station. These events were what would attract the crowds of bum-boats etc.
        The 1728 Navy Act required that ships in home waters should be paid two months’ pay every six months, however, Brian Lavery (Nelson’s Navy; London 1989), states that although the theory was good, in practice this was not always followed, due to “exigencies of the service”.
        Those on overseas stations had to wait until they returned home before receiving pay – Lavery quotes the example of the men of Audacious who were not paid for four years.
        To support families left at home, the 1758 Navy Act allowed seamen to remit their wages to a nominated dependent, although according to Rodger it was not widely taken up
        The 1795 Navy Act established an allotment system, by which men could allot a portion of their pay to a dependent; petty officers could remit up to half their pay, ratings four or five pence a day. The pay could be collected monthly from the Dockyard Pay Office and was I think, widely taken up.
        The Allotment Registers are now used as a source by genealogists; see:

        Michael D

          About 14 years ago I came across ADM26 and thinking it such a useful resource for family historians I started to photograph the volumes for later transcription I seem to remember that Kew was interested in the project but I see they went with ADM27 – what was curious to me, and those at Kew, was why there should be two series which seemed then to be serving the same purpose – I would be interested to hear if any have an explanation.
          Though I didn’t compete the project – pointless to duplicate the work of Kew- what I did do is online .


            The allotment system was indeed widely taken up: on a purely notional basis of one allotment per man (there are numerous instances of men allotting to more than one person at once, e.g. a wife AND a mother or sister), the 13,212 allotments in force in 1850 amounted to 46 per cent of 28,741 men borne on the Navy’s books that year. Ratings could and did allot more than four or five pence per day, for like POs and WOs they were subject to a ‘moiety cap’ which limited their (combined) allotments to no more than 50 per cent of wages. At the receiving end of the system, where allottees lived in or within five miles of port towns, monthly disbursements of allotments were made at dockyard pay offices. Allottees living in coastal towns had to collect their payments at harbour excise offices, and those resident in rural areas went to their local land tax offices.
            Allotments featured in the 1859 Royal Commission on naval manning, but commission members and witnesses focused mainly on the system’s perceived weaknesses, and on the moral hazard of allowing sailors to allot to ‘undesirable’ individuals. There scant recognition of the poverty and destitution suffered by sailors’ families in the decades before remittances and allotments were introduced, or of the fact that by and large the system worked, getting cash into the hands of thousands of naval dependants every month.
            It is a shame that the literature makes few references to the system, and then only briefly – in some cases critically, but without citing evidence for negative judgements. My doctoral thesis, available later this year via (currently under embargo) concerns mid-19C naval allottees. Prompted by this discussion I shall put together a short paper for submission to the Mariner’s Mirror, summarising the development and workings of the allotment system.


              In March 1756, about to sail with Byng to the Mediterranean, William Gough, 1st Lt aboard the Ramillies drew up a document appointing his wife Christiana as attorney to collect his wages, and other moneys due to him, in his absence

              The document is in the West Glamorgan Archive Service, but I post some snapshots of it on William Gough’s biography page at

              It looks in the main like a proforma document, and it certainly seems that he expects Christiana to be able to collect these wages whilst he is absent

              Best Regards

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