Records of graduated naval officers?

Mar 2017
29
Europe
#1
I have been unable to find any official records of captains or other naval officers during the 18th century. I assume there must have been a formal education, wouldn't there then also be records of graduation?

I am interested in British, French and other seafaring nations.
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,249
Albuquerque, NM
#2
There are a lot of difficulties in finding summaries of records for naval officers during the 18th century. The Royal Navy is perhaps best at keeping good records, especially after the Napoleonic Wars when the service was made more professional. Right up until the 20th century, young men of wealth could buy an Ensign's Commission, and promotion favored those with the most money and social position. Ensigns might be as young as 12, or as old as 35, or so. On the job training was most common.

Here is an article from the Journal of Maritime Research (Vol. 17, 2015, issue 1), "The education and careers of naval officers in the long eighteenth century: an international perspective" by Evan Wilson with two co-Authors. Unless, your college has an account with the Maritime Journal, only the abstract is available on line. That may mean that you will have to dig it out the old fashioned way, but I think it should answer most or your questions/needs with sound authority.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,806
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#3
There are a lot of difficulties in finding summaries of records for naval officers during the 18th century. The Royal Navy is perhaps best at keeping good records, especially after the Napoleonic Wars when the service was made more professional. Right up until the 20th century, young men of wealth could buy an Ensign's Commission, and promotion favored those with the most money and social position. Ensigns might be as young as 12, or as old as 35, or so. On the job training was most common.

Here is an article from the Journal of Maritime Research (Vol. 17, 2015, issue 1), "The education and careers of naval officers in the long eighteenth century: an international perspective" by Evan Wilson with two co-Authors. Unless, your college has an account with the Maritime Journal, only the abstract is available on line. That may mean that you will have to dig it out the old fashioned way, but I think it should answer most or your questions/needs with sound authority.
Ensign? Buy a commission?

1) In the 18th century British navy future officers could have several different titles but are generically called young gentlemen or midshipmen. At that time the word ensign meant a military equivalent of a midshipman whose duties often included carrying unit colors or "ensigns" (from insignia).

2) And they were not commissioned officers until they passed the lieutenant's test and were appointed to a lieutenant vacancy.

3) And ship captains could pretty much choose and appoint whoever they wanted as midshipmen (or often midship-children).

Only a small minority of future British naval officers studied at the small official naval schools.

And anyone expert on the age of sail can give you a lot more information about the selection and on the job training of future British naval officers during that era.

PS Did you know the TV Tropes site has a trope specifically about officers in training in the age of sail?

Plucky Middie - TV Tropes
 
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Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,650
Australia
#4
It was not possible to purchase a commission in the RN, and I think the same holds for the USN as well. Unlike the Army, the Navy required professionalism from its personnel to keep its ships operational in peace or war, and a man was only made lieutenant after several years 'apprenticeship' as a midshipman and passing an examination. There was also the opportunity for suitably qualified seamen to be promoted from the lower deck.
 
Mar 2017
29
Europe
#5
Thanks for interesting responses!
Regardless of how the officers got their education or just the position, I assume the authorities wanted to keep track of them. I am just a hobby-researcher, using what I can find on the internet, but I am surprised that I haven’t found any public lists of officers from either the Royal Navy or the EIC (or similar for other countries). (Again, assuming the 18th century).
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,249
Albuquerque, NM
#6
MaGolding is correct, and I should have used the "Midshipman" rather than ensign. USN also trains Midshipman to become ... Ensigns. A memory gear slipped and clicked on the wrong term. I also now recall reading somewhere that the practice of purchasing commissions was mostly confined to the Army, but naval officers who lacked social status and/or large amounts of money were rare, and their ascension into the higher ranks difficult. I have no excuse, and throw myself on the mercy of the Court.
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,650
Australia
#7
Try the national archives in the UK for a copy of the Navy List. This is a list published annually of all RN officers with rank, date of commission etc. It dates back to at least the 18th century.
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,249
Albuquerque, NM
#8
The problem with the Navy Lists, is that I've never found summary data. If you are researching a particular person, its great. To find all officers in a given year broken down by rank, assignment, etc. is beyond me. Even more difficult is to find summary data that covers more than a single year, and that can be sorted to zero in on particular bits of information within the research parameters. If some one know how to find that sort of summary data, I'll be pleased to learn of it.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,806
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#9
The problem with the Navy Lists, is that I've never found summary data. If you are researching a particular person, its great. To find all officers in a given year broken down by rank, assignment, etc. is beyond me. Even more difficult is to find summary data that covers more than a single year, and that can be sorted to zero in on particular bits of information within the research parameters. If some one know how to find that sort of summary data, I'll be pleased to learn of it.
You can hope that other historians before you have done a lot of research and have written books and articles that have the information you might want.

some of the books on this list might have some or all of the information a researcher might be looking for.

https://www.google.com/search?q=british+navy+18th+century&oq=british+navy+18th+century+&aqs=chrome..0j69i57j0l4.12329j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=british+navy+18th+century&tbm=bks
 
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R5 plus

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
3,779
Home of Ringing Rocks
#10
I have been unable to find any official records of captains or other naval officers during the 18th century. I assume there must have been a formal education, wouldn't there then also be records of graduation?

I am interested in British, French and other seafaring nations.
I'm not sure this will all directly answer your question, but for what it's worth.

The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy 1660 - 1815 David Bonner Smith
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Commissioned-Officers-Royal-Navy-1660-1815/dp/B000YIT2I4
Not sure how accessible this is to the general public, found it listed in the bibliography of the book listed right below this one.


The Wooden World N.A.M Rodger
https://www.amazon.com/Wooden-World-Anatomy-Georgian-Navy/dp/0393314693
Very informative.

The Star Captains Tom Wareham
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M1O41BE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
Interesting read. I was desperate to have this one when I came across it and ended up getting it on kindle so I could read it right away. Unfortunately, the tables don't show up. I will probably still buy the actual book at some point.

These two books (and probably many others) have helpful bibliographies that may point you in the right direction to answer further questions.


Just in passing though...although the Royal Navy had a school since the 1730's, most midshipman started through family connections and moved up through practical experience and patronage.

The French navy had both, training on land and sea. Maybe I'll post a couple of French links later.
 
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