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The British Navy's Victualling Board, 1793-1815

The British Navy's Victualling Board, 1793-1815: Management Competence and Incompetence

Janet Macdonald
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    The British Navy's Victualling Board, 1793-1815
    Book Description:

    During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy increased its manpower from fewer than 20,000 to more than 147,000 men, with a concomitant increase in the quantities of food and drink required to sustain them. The organisation responsible for this, the Victualling Board, performed its tasks using techniques and systems which it had developed over the previous 110 years. In terms of actually delivering supplies to warships, troopships and army garrisons abroad, the Victualling Board performed well given the constraints of long-distance communications and intermittent difficulties in obtaining supplies. However, its other areas of responsibility showed poor performance, as evidenced by the reports of several Parliamentary enquiries. This book examines in detail the processes by which the Victualling Board performed its core and non-core tasks, identifying the areas of competence and incompetence, and establishing the underlying causes of the incompetencies. JANET MACDONALD, author of the highly acclaimed Feeding Nelson's Navy (Chatham, 2004), has recently completed a thesis at King's College London. After a business career, and running an equestrian organisation, she spent ten years as a freelance writer, publishing more than thirty books.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-824-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Author’s note
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Tables and Maps
    (pp. ix-ix)
  7. [Maps]
    (pp. x-xviii)
  8. 1 Introduction, Historiography and Early History of Victualling
    (pp. 1-15)

    British naval history has a history of its own. According to the social and political agendas of the day, it has been told as the story of a sequence of important battles which led to British naval supremacy, a sequence of hagiographies intended to offer the subjects as role models to the coming generation of naval officers, studies of battle tactics made at a time when a new outbreak of war seemed inevitable, studies of developing technologies and studies of the social history of the navy and life at sea. A few historians have recognised the importance of naval administration...

  9. 2 The Core Tasks: Obtaining and Distributing Bulk Supplies of Food, Drink and Victualling Stores
    (pp. 16-40)

    Although it is not stated in these terms in their formal instructions, it is clear that, to use a modern term, the core work of the Victualling Board was to ensure that ‘His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels’ both at home and abroad, and soldiers abroad, were provided with food and beverages. In performing this aspect of its work, as in all others, the levels of autonomy and the areas of high and low competence can be seen.

    The task was performed by utilising a combination of three strategies. Firstly, the purchase of bulk supplies of victuals which were then issued...

  10. 3 Delivery at Home: Issuing Victuals to Warships and Managing the Victualling Yards
    (pp. 41-63)

    The second part of the Victualling Board’s core task of supplying the Royal Navy and the army abroad with victuals and victualling stores was the delivery of bulk supplies to army garrisons abroad, the delivery of those items to warships on stations at home and abroad, and to troopships leaving Britain. Although the general principles of performing this task were the same regardless of location, each had their own types of difficulty to overcome. Abroad, there were problems relating to distance and communication times, with occasional clashes of personality; at home problems tended to arise from shortages and delays caused...

  11. 4 Delivery Abroad for Warships, Army Garrisons and Military Expeditions
    (pp. 64-85)

    Delivery of victuals to warships on stations outside home waters, although catering for a much smaller proportion of men than those operating in home waters, seem, if the volume of correspondence to and from the Admiralty is a true indicator, to have created an equal volume of work for the Victualling Board and its staff at Somerset House. The whole of the work of feeding the army was, with the exception of supplying troop ships leaving Britain, for troops abroad.

    The actual delivery system for warships abroad, although conducted on the same basis, was weighted almost diametrically opposite to that...

  12. 5 Non-core and ad hoc Tasks
    (pp. 86-107)

    In addition to the core tasks of obtaining and dispensing food and drink to the Royal Navy and parts of the army, the Victualling Board had numerous other tasks to perform. Some of these were of a regular nature, such as accounting, reporting to other government departments, property management, and staff management; others were of an ad hoc nature, although they tended to fall into certain categories such as feeding various groups of people who did not belong to the Royal Navy or British army, investigating complaints from commissioned officers, and investigating, and sometimes incorporating, innovations in food preparation, storage...

  13. 6 Head Office Staff
    (pp. 108-134)

    When attempting to judge the competence and efficiency of the Victualling Board operation, it is necessary to know something about the people who ran and staffed that organisation: their political and social affiliations, their position in the overall naval and government hierarchy, their career paths and salary structures and how they were recruited. These issues did not remain static throughout the period; the salary structure changed in 1800 as a result of the deliberations of the Fees commissioners; and the hierarchical structure of the department, staffing and department functions were subjected to major changes in 1809 as a result of...

  14. 7 Yard Staff
    (pp. 135-159)

    Staff at the Victualling Board’s yards were of two types: clerical and manual, each type being supervised locally by persons known as officers. The officers responsible for the main accounting and clerical functions in each yard were known as ‘superior’ officers, those responsible for the manual workers were known as ‘inferior’ officers. The number of these inferior officers varied, according to the manufacturing activities carried out at the yard. At the outports, both sets of officers reported to the agent victualler who in turn reported directly to the board of commissioners; at Deptford the chief officer was known as the...

  15. 8 Theft, Fraud, and other Misdemeanours
    (pp. 160-186)

    All organisations are, and always have been, vulnerable to people who seek to enrich themselves through means both unlawful and immoral; the Victualling Board, in common with other areas of naval administration in Georgian times, was no exception. What is important in the context of this study is how the Victualling Board managed this situation: what policies they had in place for prevention and early detection, whether these policies were actively pursued, what action they took on detection or complaint, and whether these policies were effective in reducing the incidence of misdemeanours over time.

    In addition to the various cases...

  16. 9 Parliamentary Inquiries
    (pp. 187-212)

    Between 1788 and 1807, there were four major parliamentary inquiries which delved into the workings of the Victualling Board and victual ling office: the Fees Commission, the Select Committee on Finance, the Commission of Naval Inquiry, and the Board of Revision.¹ The parts of these reports which cover the salary and wages systems for the Victualling Board, its clerical and yard staff and a fraud in the cooperage at Plymouth, have already been discussed; here we are concerned with those parts which cover better management.

    After much procrastination, one of the recommendations in the Fees reports, that of splitting the...

  17. 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 213-224)

    The Board of Revision’s reports on the Victualling Board are a damning indictment of the whole of the management of the victualling, both in the victualling office in London and in the yards at home and abroad. The previous enquiries suggested some improvements but had basically concluded that the systems at the yards were adequate, conclusions which the Board of Revision found itself unable to comprehend.¹ They tactfully remarked several times that it was the system which was at fault rather than the individuals running it, but they also made several comments which clearly indicated that they thought the commissioners...

  18. Appendix A Substitute Provisions
    (pp. 225-225)
  19. Appendix B An account of the expense of victualling 110,000 men for 13 lunar months
    (pp. 226-226)
  20. Appendix C Victualling Commissioners – biographic details
    (pp. 227-234)
  21. Appendix D Staff numbers at Somerset Place
    (pp. 235-235)
  22. Appendix E Head Office staff salaries (£p.a.)
    (pp. 236-238)
  23. Appendix F Establishment of Officers and Clerks at the Victualling Yard at Deptford, as proposed by the Board of Revision
    (pp. 239-239)
  24. Appendix G Victualling Board purchases of cattle from Smithfield market
    (pp. 240-240)
  25. Glossary
    (pp. 241-244)
  26. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-254)
  27. Index
    (pp. 255-270)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)