The insatiable earl, the Scotch packhorse, and the sentinel: naval administration 1763-1809

Dalton, Hesta (2012) The insatiable earl, the Scotch packhorse, and the sentinel: naval administration 1763-1809. BA dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    The entrenched assumption that the navy was neglected or mismanaged during the second half of the eighteen century has long been a point of debate. In 1763 Britain presided over an enormous empire that spanned the globe, but which ultimately created uniquely difficult circumstances under which the navy had to operate both at sea and on land. As the period wore on, international and imperial relations became increasingly strained. This situation, coinciding with political instability in the country, put immense pressure on the existing systems of naval management. Ultimately, the loss of the American Colonies in 1783 was attributed to naval failures, and the First Lord of the Admiralty bore the brunt of contemporary criticism. Negative perceptions of naval management have remained remarkably unshakable ever since.
    Both contemporaries and historians have attacked naval administration in 1763-1805 for supposedly fostering a detrimental system of political appointments and patronage, ignoring corruption, and failing to address the system’s inefficiencies. Newer research, however, has probed deeper than the successes or failures of the few men who presided over the navy, and has revealed that numerous factors contributed to the difficult task of effectively managing a service that was overstretched and underresourced. These include, but are not limited to, the lack of a formal civil service, increasingly pressurised international and domestic circumstances and, finally, the conservative attitudes of the day which often prohibited meaningful reform.
    Through the analysis of primary and secondary sources it has been possible to augment, or in some cases discredit, previous conclusions on the subject. Of particular value are the published papers of prominent individuals which have enabled a more critical examination of previous assumptions. It is now evident that unavoidable external factors impacted significantly on the efficiency of naval administration in the eighteenth century, but in spite of these factors the civil departments of the navy were competently managed. The navy’s chief administrators may well have disagreed on matters at times, but this was usually over means rather than ends. Blame and criticism has been wrongly placed on certain individuals, whilst others, who formed a strong and competent backbone of administration, have been almost completely overlooked. Despite the condemnation that naval management of this period has received, it cannot be denied that the British navy achieved great victories and accomplished remarkable tasks. It was the country’s first line of defence, a responsibility it stood up to admirably, given the circumstances.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Additional Information: Appendices and maps are unavailable electronically, but are available from the print copy in the University Library
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies
    Depositing User: Jane Polwin
    Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2012 11:54
    Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015 12:08

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