Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The British Navy, Economy and Society in the Seven Years War

The British Navy, Economy and Society in the Seven Years War

Christian Buchet
Anita Higgie
Michael Duffy
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The British Navy, Economy and Society in the Seven Years War
    Book Description:

    A very important analysis of British naval victualling, with wide implications for economic as well as naval history.' N.A.M. RODGER, All Souls College, Oxford. This book, by a leading French maritime historian, discusses how Britain's success in the Seven Years War (1756-63) was made possible by the creation of a superb victualling system for the British navy. It shows how this system had been developed over the preceding centuries, how it balanced carefully the advantages of state control with the flexibility of commercial contracting, and how the system was designed to mesh with and support British strategic ambitions. It provides rich detail on how the system worked, how it was administered, how key products were priced, bought, stored and transported, and how it compared, very favourably, to equivalent systems in France and elsewhere. The book shows how the increasing efficiency of the Victualling Board enabled the navy to take advantage of agricultural, commercial and financial advances in the British economy to supply its front line fighting forces over ever longer distances and ever longer periods. The Victualling Board was one of a number of interfaces between the demands of the State and the supply facilities of the economy, to their mutual benefit. As a major purchaser through competitive tender, the Board made a positive contribution to the entrepreneurial spirit of British society. The book goes beyond maritime history by discussing how naval supply provided a huge stimulus for British finance, agriculture, trade and manufacturing, and argues that all this together was one of the principal causes of Britain's later Industrial Revolution. CHRISTIAN BUCHET is Professor of Modern History and Director of the Centre d'Etudes de la Mer at the Institut Catholique de Paris. Besides comparative studies of the British and French navies 1688-1783, he has written extensively on maritime environmental issues and is Secretary General of the National Council of the French Archipelago.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-101-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Michael Duffy

    Following the original French language publication of this book in 1999,¹ it was hailed as a ‘pioneering work’ and it was admitted that ‘no one had previously attempted a detailed analysis of the V[ictualling] B[oard]’s work or the tendering system by which it ensured that the navy was fed’.² Whereas historians had previously only considered naval victualling at best as a chapter in wider works,³ Christian Buchet has afforded it an in-depth study covering its development over time and in particular its impact on Britain’s most decisive imperial war of the eighteenth century – the Seven Years War. He has...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Professor Jean Meyer’s opinion (above) can be aptly applied to British naval history in the modern period. It was thanks to the Royal Navy’s ability to create a structured administration and thus stimulate ‘cisatlantic’ commercial capitalism (to use D.A. Farnie’s¹ expression) which was, at the time, in a period of full development, that Great Britain was enabled to progressively dominate the high seas.

    The author’s study of the struggle during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to control the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts of Central and South America,² a veritable yardstick by which to measure the level of organisation of the...

  6. Part One: The General Organisation of Victualling the British Navy

    • 1 From an Empirically-Based Organisation to a Centrally Planned System: The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Victualling Board
      (pp. 15-22)

      In 1659 John Hollond wrote, ‘It hath been an old and great dispute which is the best way of victualling, whether by particular men as contractors at a certain rate, or by the State.’¹

      Throughout the seventeenth century a fierce debate raged concerning the strategy of victualling the Royal Navy, and those in favour of a competitive private system were already clashing with supporters of state intervention. The former group argued in favour of a system that offered a certain degree of flexibility, a dynamic approach and lower costs due to a contractual system based on market demand; whereas the...

    • 2 The Victualling Board and the Seven Years War
      (pp. 23-41)

      The management and efficient running of the Victualling Board was in the hands of seven central Commissioners who had been appointed by the Lords of the Admiralty, to whom they had to report two to three times a week.¹ The Commissioners usually met on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.² Each Commissioner had clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Two Commissioners were responsible for finance and accounts, and the remaining five each had a particular field of responsibility across all geographical areas (see Appendix 2). They were aided in their tasks by a team of about forty assistants.³ From the records available it...

    • 3 Food Rations and Their Evolution
      (pp. 42-60)

      When British maritime historiography refers to the issues with which victualling was confronted before the 1790s, it has usually painted a dark and often erroneous picture. The same quotation is nearly always cited, from William Thompson’s 1761 work entitled An Appeal to the Public in Vindication of Truth and Matters of Fact. The author, who was a foreman cooper for the Victualling Board in the 1740s, vividly describes the deplorable condition of foodstuffs:

      That Mariners in the King’s Ships have frequently put their 24 hours’ allowance of salt provisions into their tobacco-boxes. That seamen in the King’s Ships have made...

  7. Part Two: The Bases

    • 4 The Victualling Board’s Principal Bases
      (pp. 63-89)

      The Victualling Board’s principal bases were under the direct jurisdiction of this Admiralty office responsible for organising the different operations relating to victualling. An Agent of the Victualling Board was in charge of personnel, the number of which varied according to the situation of the base, and he managed victualling activities in close liaison with the Board Commissioners based in London.

      The number of bases directly under the jurisdiction of the Victualling Board noticeably decreased during the first three conflicts in the eighteenth century (see Table 4.1). There were eleven bases during the War of the Spanish Succession, but then,...

    • 5 An Example of a Victualling Yard under the Jurisdiction of the Victualling Board: Plymouth, Satellite of British Logistical Power
      (pp. 90-104)

      This chapter will approach its subject matter from a different slant from that taken in the previous chapters of this book. Up to now, the aim of this volume has been to highlight a system that was progressively developed by the Victualling Board in order to victual the Royal Navy, and as a consequence the approach taken has been that of presenting this as a whole, in a macro-economic fashion, starting with an examination of the work of the central Commissioners at top level. This chapter will complete the study by taking a micro-economic approach and analysing how victualling was...

    • 6 Victualling in the Secondary Home Ports and in the Overseas Stations
      (pp. 105-132)

      Unlike the primary yards which were placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Victualling Board, the Commissioners entrusted each secondary home or overseas port to a single contractor who had to be in a position to fulfil all and any demands for victuals made by the Royal Navy.

      There were ten secondary home ports: Greenock, Whitehaven, Liverpool, Milford and Bristol on the west coast; Leith, Newcastle, Hull, Lynn and Yarmouth on the east coast. To these should be added five Irish ports – Londonderry (from September 1759), Belfast-Carrickfergus, Dublin, Waterford, Cork – and a dozen other overseas stations: in North...

    • 7 An Example of Stations Managed by a Private Contractor in the Service of the Crown: The Caribbean Staging-Posts
      (pp. 133-160)

      Why choose the West Indies as a typical example of the secondary ports and overseas stations by which to illustrate and deepen our understanding of the management of such victualling? First, because apart from the example of the western squadron whose victualling was studied in the chapter focusing on Plymouth, it was in the West Indies that the highest concentration of warships occurred. Second, because of this example’s geographical position: the Caribbean (sometimes described as the ‘American Mediterranean’) provides an excellent opportunity to study the impact of being supplied both from Europe and from America. Finally, because the Caribbean arena...

  8. Part Three: The Main Markets

    • 8 Meat
      (pp. 163-189)

      Victualling the Royal Navy with meat was a very delicate operation, both due to technical problems associated with preserving it (see Chapter 3), and because significant quantities were required. Compared to the already large quantity of beef bought in England during the War of the Austrian Succession in 1746, namely 69,357 hundredweight (one hundredweight (cwt) = 112 lbs), the Commissioners had to find almost twice this quantity in 1759, namely 123,552 hundredweight. The increase is similar when the comparison is extended to the last four years of the two wars: 235,941 cwt of beef consumed during the War of the...

    • 9 Cereals and Pulses
      (pp. 190-224)

      This chapter, which is devoted to the category of cereals and pulses, will examine a group of products that was also often given the generalised label of ‘sundry provisions’. This will include wheat and its derivatives (flour and biscuits), oats, groats, malt and peas. The list was not drawn up according to whether a cereal or a pulse belong to a certain genus – for example, hops are not considered in this chapter – but because the items on the above list were all provided by a single body of merchants, consisting of eighty-four individual suppliers and five merchant associations,...

    • 10 The Remaining Sectors: Beverages, Butter and Cheese, Salt, Olive Oil and Raisins
      (pp. 225-252)

      Having examined homogeneous sectors such as meat, cereals and pulses, this final chapter will concentrate on a group of sectors which, although rather more disparate, was of no less importance. In fact, 104 merchants – as individuals or in associations – were involved in supplying the Navy with provisions of butter, beer, cheese, olive oil, raisins, salt, spirits and wine.

      Very few contracts were drawn up for the provision of the various Navy yards with beer, and there is a logical explanation for this. During the War of the Austrian Succession and into the 1750s, the Navy made a special...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 253-264)

    The picture painted of pre-1790s victualling by maritime historiography is as gloomy as it is erroneous. Almost every publication has quoted the same extracts from William Thompson’s An Appeal to the Public in Vindication of Truth and Matters of Facts, in which the author, who was employed as a master cooper by the Victualling Board in the 1740s, describes the deplorable conditions and methods in which and by which food provisions were conserved. On the basis of Thompson’s statements, it is only too easy to hastily discredit the work of the Commissioners and to judge them as having been, at...

  10. APPENDIX 1 Ordinary Charge of the Victualling Board in 1747
    (pp. 265-267)
  11. APPENDIX 2 Commissioners of the Victualling Board, 1755–63
    (pp. 268-268)
  12. APPENDIX 3 The Structure of British Naval Administration
    (pp. 269-269)
  13. APPENDIX 4 Itemised Distribution of Victualling Board Expenses, 1756–9, 1762–3
    (pp. 270-272)
  14. APPENDIX 5 List of Victuals on the Southsea Castle Leaving for the East Indies at the End of 1759 with a Crew of 130 Men
    (pp. 273-273)
  15. APPENDIX 6 Process to Be Used in Curing Beef and Pork
    (pp. 274-275)
  16. APPENDIX 7 Wage Totals, According to Activity, Paid to Victualling Personnel in the London Yard in the First Quarter of 1761
    (pp. 276-276)
  17. APPENDIX 8 Supervisory Staff of the Victualling Board, 1761
    (pp. 277-278)
  18. Sources and Bibliography
    (pp. 279-292)
  19. Index
    (pp. 293-302)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-305)