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Ranks and Prize Money

Recently there has been some discussion about relative ranks in the Royal Navy during "our" era. The matter is quite complex, although very roughly it can be said that commissioned officers were at the top, warrant officers (officers appointed by the Navy Board rather than commissioned by the Admiralty) next, and then everybody else. Yet, that is rather too simplistic, as warrant officers ranged in status from the Master who largely equated to a commissioned lieutenant all the way down to the Cooper who ranked merely as a junior petty officer. Brian Lavery in his excellent "Nelson's Navy" assembled a table showing relative ranks based upon pay and privileges as they existed about 1810. I shall try to summarize it below:

  1. Captain: This speaks for itself. The captain of a ship, whether a post-captain or a commander, was a commissioned officer at the top of the pyramid.
  2. Senior Wardroom Officers: These would be men who held the privilege of messing in a ship of the line's wardroom or a frigate's gunroom. They included the Lieutenants and also the Captain of Marines (if such an officer was aboard), all being commissioned officers, and the Master, a warrant officer.
  3. Junior Wardroom Officers: Although junior to the Senior Wardroom Officers, they too had the privilege of dining in the wardroom (or frigate's gunroom). They included Lieutenants of Marines (commissioned) and some warrant officers: Purser, Surgeon, and Chaplain.
  4. Standing Officers: Warrant officers including the Gunner, the Boatswain, and the Carpenter. They did not mess in the wardroom (or a frigate's gunroom).
  5. Cockpit Mates: Senior seamen rather than warrant officers, they included the Master's Mates and the Surgeon's Mates. (Both types of mates were considered "cockpit officers".)
  6. Senior Petty Officers: They included the Midshipmen and the Captain's Clerk (all considered "Cockpit Officers"), several warrant officers (the Armourer, the Ropemaker, the Caulker, and the Master at Arms), and the Carpenter's Mates (seamen rather than warrant officers).
  7. Petty Officers: The Sailmaker, who was a warrant officer, and various senior seamen: the Yeoman of the Sheets, the Coxswain, the Sergeants of Marines, Quartermasters, Armourer's Mates, Gunner's Mates, Yeoman of the Powder Room, Boatswain's Mates, Caulker's Mates, and the Ship's Corporals (assistants to the Master at Arms).
  8. Junior Petty Officers: The Cooper (a warrant officer), Captains of various parts of the ship (such as "Captain of the Foretop"), Quartermaster's Mates, Gunsmith, Quarter Gunners, Sailmaker's Mates, Carpenter's Crew, and the Cook.
  9. Able Seamen: Those literally designated as "Able Seamen" plus the Coxswain's Mates, the Corporals of Marines, the Cooper's Mate, the Purser's Steward, the Yeoman of the Store Room, and the Cook's Mates.
  10. Ordinary Seamen: Those literally designated as "Ordinary Seamen" plus the Purser's Steward's Mate.
  11. Landsmen: Landsmen and Marine Privates
  12. Boys: Boys part of the ship's crew and boys with the Marines.


Prize Money:

For distribution of prize money, the above rankings were grouped together in categories for particular shares of the money. Certain specific rankings, however, were placed in a higher (or lower) category than the ranking would suggest. These prize money categories (based on the regulations before 1808) were:

  1. Captain -- Three-eighths of the prize (with one-third of that going to any qualifying flag officer)
  2. Senior Wardroom Officers -- One-eighth of the prize.
  3. Junior Wardroom Officers, Standing Officers, and Cockpit Mates (except for Surgeon's Mates who were included in the next lower category) -- One-eighth.
  4. Senior Petty Officers and Petty Officers plus the Surgeon's Mates and the Quartermaster's Mates -- One-eighth.
  5. Junior Petty Officers (except, as noted above, the Quartermaster's Mates), Able Seamen, Ordinary Seamen, Landsmen, and Boys -- One-quarter of the prize.

In 1808 the prize money system was revised, with the Captain's share reduced to one-quarter. It remained unchanged for the Commissioned and Warrant Officers, while the Petty Officers and Crew got one-half the prize.

Bruce Trinque
41°37'52"N  72°22'29"W
19 January 2004