Sustaining the Fleet, 1793-1815

Sustaining the Fleet, 1793-1815

War, the British Navy and the Contractor State

Roger Knight, Martin Wilcox


Boydell Press



An assessment of the work of the contractors who were commissioned by the Victualling Board to provision the fleet in this period.
Provisioning the fleet, and the army overseas, during the French Wars of 1793-1815 was a major undertaking. This book explains how the Victualling Board in London handled this enormous task, focusing in particular on contractors - that is the merchants and brokers, who provided a vast range of commodities including flour and biscuit, salt beef and pork, as well as huge quantities of fresh water and coal, and every other item needed. It shows how these merchants could be large or small concerns, and provides detailed case studies of different kinds of contractors, including examples of contractors based both in Britain and in the navy's overseas bases. The book demonstrates how, overall, the contracting system represented the mobilisation of a substantial part of the British economy for war; how the performance of contracting was effective, with little or no corruption; and how the contractors took considerable financial risks and made only reasonable margins. It assesses the performance of the Victualling Board, arguing that this was good, and that the problem in the major area of weakness - accounting - was quickly addressed following a major crisis in 1808-09. It concludes that this was "an impressive performance" by the state, but that the overwhelming advantage was the resilience of the market, and that it was "upon the success of the contractors that the war at sea was won."

For most of his career, ROGER KNIGHT was on the staff of the National Maritime Museum, leaving as Deputy Director in 2000. Since then he has taught at the Greenwich Maritime Institute at the University of Greenwich, where he is currently Visiting Professor of Naval History.
MARTIN WILCOX completed a doctorate in maritime history at the University of Hull, and has been employed as postdoctoral research fellow at Greenwich Maritime Institute since 2006.


September 2010
7 line illustrations
262 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843835646
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
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Table of Contents

Introduction: War and the Contractor State
The Victualling Board and its Contractors
The Global Strategic Task
The Market for Provisions at Home and Abroad
Supply Contracts: 'Men of Confined Property' and 'The Flower of the City'
Commission Agents: 'Persons of Reputation, Integrity and Extensive Commercial Connexions'
Sea Provisions Contractors: Extending the Imperial Reach
Basil Cochrane and the Victualling of the Fleet in the East Indies, 1792-1806
Zephaniah Job: Merchant, Smuggler, Banker and Contractor
Samuel Paget and the Sea Provisions Contract at Great Yarmouth, 1796-1802


(A) lucid and well-argued analysis. THE HISTORIAN

One of the major strengths of this impressive work is that it provides a fascinating insight into the minutiae of naval power, while simultaneously recounting the vast scale of victualling operations during a lengthy period of warfare. JOURNAL FOR MARITIME RESEARCH

(reviewed tgether with The British Navy's Victualling Board) Rare is the occasion when two excellent books are written about the same subject within the same year. (...) Both books are well written and well documented, utilizing a vast array of primary sources. (...) For those who study the Royal Navy in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods both (...) are simply must have books. NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL

This is a pioneering study which clears a great deal of ground, and ought to attract research into the many other faces of the 'Contractor State'. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

(Reviewed together with 'The British Navy's Victualling Board') By the simultaneous publication of two books on victualling the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Boydell Press have made a major contribution to the historiography of naval administration and the supply of the navy at a critical period in the evolution of British power. (...) Important contributions in their own right, (these) books fill gaps in knowledge about the organization of British naval power. Authors and publisher are to be commended. They contribute to a new understanding of the nation and its achievements to which the supply of food to its armed forces was fundamental. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY

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