The fate of rank of Captains of the Tops etc

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    Malcolm Lewis

    Captains of the Lower Deck were among the first winners of the Victoria Cross – what was the fate of this rank? (This is the full title of my query but too long for the “Topic Title”)

    Among the first Royal Naval personnel to be awarded the newly inaugurated Victoria Cross for Valour in 1856 was George Ingoueville, Captain of the Mast of HMS Arrogant for his bravery in the engagement with Russian gun boats at Viborg, Finland, in the Crimean War in July 1855.

    John Taylor, Captain of the Forecastle was awarded the VC for his bravery at the assault of Sevastopol in June 1855.

    Samuel Mitchell, Captain of the Foretop of HMS Harrier was awarded the VC at the attack of Te Papa, Tauranga (New Zealand Wars) in April 1864
    Thomas Pride, Captain of the After-Guard of HMS Euryalus was awarded the VC for bravery during the Shimonoseki Expedition, Japan in August 1863
    Brian Lavery (Nelson’s Navy 1793-1815 p136) says that, regarding Captains of the Tops etc up until 1806 these ranks did not receive extra pay after which time they were established with the same pay as quartermaster’s mates.
    The rank was clearly still established in 1850s-60s. How were such “Captains” addressed by officers and lower ranks? At what date did the rank disappear and did these senior rates become Petty Officers?



    You asked:

    > what was the fate of Captains of the Lower Deck?

    Should we not be talking about Captains of the various Parts of Ship, in which case I don’t think they did disappear, at least not in my time ?

    If you look at pay scales, from say 1835 :

    when midshipmen et al were included amongst the Petty Officers’ scales of pay, as you’ll be aware, the Petty Officers in charge of the various parts of ship were either Petty Officers First or Second Class, that division disappearing in 1907 :,.html

    The last example I’ve got showing scales of pay for the captains of the various parts of ship is 1885 :

    ie which suggests to me that they probably disappeared in that period or more likely in 1907, the last of the sailing navy having just about disappeared except for a brig or two and numerous hulks…….but whilst the title of Captain of the various parts of sailing ship may have disappeared with the wooden walls, but surely the Petty Officers in charge of the various Parts of Ship continued for many years…….at least into the early 1970s, as far as my sea-going career was concerned ?

    Isle of Portland

    David Hepper

    I would suggest that Paul B. is correct, the task, as a rank, died out in the 1880s. In the Navy List of 1880, which carries a “Wages Table – Ships Company” they are clearly listed as a rank; in the same NL, under ‘Distinctive Badges’ (i.e. Good Conduct Badges), they again appear, grouped under First Class Petty Officers.

    However, in the Navy List of 1890, with a similar Wages Table and Badges page, there is no mention of Captains of parts of ship, only Petty Officers 1st and 2nd Class and Chief Petty Officers.

    I would again agree with Paul that it became a job title, rather than a rank, and I can also confirm that Petty Officers were (probably still are) in charge of Parts of Ship and often referred to as Captain of the Fo’c’sle etc.

    As they ranked as Petty Officers, they would have been referred to as such by the commissioned officers

    Malcolm Lewis

    Thank you Paul for your reply and the very useful references. I came across a book published in 1880 which claimed to be An Official Chronicle of those awarded the Victoria Cross 1856 to 1880 and noted these men listed as captains of various parts of the ship. Whilst presumably Petty Officers they were not listed as such and I found this curious and sought to find out more. It would seem to be more of a job title than a rank. Do you know how they were addressed on board?

    Malcolm Lewis

    Thank you David. You pre-empted me by a minute or two!

    Malcolm Lewis

    Mentioning the term Parts of Ship I believe this relates to the administrative Divisions within a warship and even in recent times these divisions still used the old nomenclature from sailing ship days such as forecastle as David and Paul note, and even foretop and maintop in WW2 battleships. In destroyers the midships division was called the “iron deck”.
    I recall that in my training ship, the converted carrier Indefatigable, my Part of Ship cleaning station was the compass flat somewhere in the bowels of the ship. We were seldom disturbed down there as very few knew where it was.
    Does anyone know how Divisions are named today?


    Captains of &c. aren’t included in the pretty exhaustive list of ranks and ratings in the 1889 “Watch, Station, Quarter, and Fire Bills &c. for the Use of Her Majesty’s Mastless Ships.” The parts of the ship then were Forecastle, Fore-top, Main-top and and Quarter-deck. The Mizzen-top part disappeared sometime between then and 1868.

    Alastair Wilson

    The Navy Lst for June 1888 still has the Captains of the various Tops as a Petty Officer rate (it’s all there in the Wages Table at the back of the Navy List), so tHat narrows it down to 1888-1889/90 that the old rates diasappeared.

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