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Old March 23rd, 2013, 05:05 AM   #1
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british army Navy & Rank


I have always thought it interesting that in the 1800s One could purchased a commission in the British army but in the Navy one could not. There was testing, a review board plus experience. Probably is a sign of the difference Britain placed on the two services.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 05:59 AM   #2
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The Royal Naval college charged substantial fees, so entry to the Naval officers was not based entirely on Merit, Fisher was keen to fix this as late as 1908, and I think still charging large fees after ww2. Also up until fisher Captains and Admirals were promoted on seniority, (there was some interference and patronage as well at various times, but overall it was next on the list, there were cases of mass promotions of everyone above a particular rising officer so he could be promoted, they had to promote everyone with greater seniority as well) Both services were pretty much class based organizations until well into the 20th century.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 06:01 AM   #3

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Good point, and I suppose it highlights the backwardness of the army compared to the senior service. In the navy there was an examination for Lieutenant and once you got to Post Captain promotion was based upon the death of one's peers, but in the army gentlemen could buy their own Colonelcy and the commissions to go with it.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 06:14 AM   #4

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In the army an officer could get away with being incompetent right up until he was committed to battle, and often beyond that. However taking charge of a ship required knowlege and skill that needed to be excercised on a continual basis, therefore an officer in the RN had to prove himself up to the task, hence no purchase of rank.

Of note is the fact that while officers in line regiments could purchase rank, officers in the Engineers could not, because they needed a proven amount of technical expertise to do their job.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 06:29 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belgarion View Post
In the army an officer could get away with being incompetent right up until he was committed to battle, and often beyond that. However taking charge of a ship required knowlege and skill that needed to be excercised on a continual basis, therefore an officer in the RN had to prove himself up to the task, hence no purchase of rank.

Of note is the fact that while officers in line regiments could purchase rank, officers in the Engineers could not, because they needed a proven amount of technical expertise to do their job.
Agreed.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 06:42 AM   #6

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The Royal artillery though was the exception and promotions based on merit.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 06:45 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belgarion View Post
In the army an officer could get away with being incompetent right up until he was committed to battle, and often beyond that. However taking charge of a ship required knowlege and skill that needed to be excercised on a continual basis, therefore an officer in the RN had to prove himself up to the task, hence no purchase of rank.

Of note is the fact that while officers in line regiments could purchase rank, officers in the Engineers could not, because they needed a proven amount of technical expertise to do their job.
In Tom Brown's School Days, Harry Flashman talks about how after Rugby his father will "purchase me a commission in the dragoons." No technical expertise required. He could fake it through his career.

In the navy, an officer was involved in navigation, or naval architecture, or construction (and later complex marine engineering), gunnery and torpedos, range finding, etc., etc. All required competence in mathematics. You can't fake that.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 07:39 AM   #8

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The army permitted 'purchase' up to Colonel in effect command of a regiment until the 1860's (I think).

The idea was that it gave a 'lump sum' upon retirement, there was a requirement of a minimium service time then a commision can be purchased, there was an official price but different ,more fashionable etc regiments added to the price so for instance The Guards were worth much more than a mere line regiments.

Promotion in the field -- deadmens shoes-- was free and newly raised corps would also not have a price. In the context of the time other armies required a proper even aristocratic background to be an officer.

The image of 'Flashmanesque' officers is not entirely true because the real 'Fops' would exchange or transfer out of their regiment if posted overseas to a home based one.

The Navy on the whole promoted on ability with examination required, patronage and influence was important as Admirals tended to promote 'their' men but officers had to be competent or they'd get everyone killed.

In theory a man could join as a common seaman (Edward Pellow did) and end his days an Admiral but he would have to have had the benefit of an education --unlikely but Pellow did--- in order to master the complex tasks of navigation etc.

Last edited by Kevinmeath; March 23rd, 2013 at 08:55 AM.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 08:50 AM   #9
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@Kevinmeath:

That Flashman was quite a guy though.
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Old March 23rd, 2013, 09:08 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevinmeath View Post
The army permitted 'purchase' up to Colonel in effect command of a regiment until the 1860's (I think).

The idea was that it gave a 'lump sum' upon retirement, there was a requirement of a minimium service time then a commision can be purchased, there was an official price but different ,more fashionable etc regiments added to the price so for instance The Guards were worth much more than a mere line regiments.

Promotion in the field -- deadmens shoes-- was free and newly raised corps would also not have a price. In the context of the time other armies required a proper even aristocratic background to be an officer.

The image of 'Flashmanesque' officers is not entirely true because the real 'Fops' would exchange or transfer out of their regiment if posted overseas to a home based one.

The Navy on the whole promoted on ability with examination required, patronage and influence was important as Admirals tended to promote 'their' men but officers had to be competent or they'd get everyone killed.

In theory a man could join as a common seaman (Edward Pellow did) and end his days an Admiral but he would have to have had the benefit of an education --unlikely but Pellow did--- in order to master the complex tasks of navigation etc.


There are several notable examples of 19th century British soldiers rising from private to general.

Military hero rose from lowly private to become a Major General McBainofMcBain.com
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