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From Somerset Place to Whitehall: reforming the civilian departments of the Navy, 1830-34

MacDougall, Philip (1994) From Somerset Place to Whitehall: reforming the civilian departments of the Navy, 1830-34. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85965) (KAR id:85965)


The subject matter of this thesis is that of a series of reforms undertaken by the newly elected Whig coallition of 1830, culminating in the abolition of two of the navy's civilian administrative bodies: the Navy and Victualling Boards. Since the 17th century, these two boards had been responsible for governing all Royal Navy dock and victualling yards, with the latter having more recently acquired responsibility for the care of sick and wounded seamen. As shown in the thesis, responsibility for thse various undertakings was not an inconsiderable task, the two boards each managing large numbers of civilian employees. Indeed, those employed in the various naval dockyards (of which there were seven home yards) exceeded that of any other civilian employer in the world.

The opening chapter is primarily descriptive. Little research has previously been undertaken into the workings of the civilian departments during this period, it being necessary to clearly state how the boards operated and the extent of their powers. In addition, attention is given to the Navy Pay Office and the Ordnance Board, two other bodies that were charged with ensuring that the Fleet could put to sea. A further element of the first chapter is the relationship of these four administrative bodies with that of the Admirality, the board charged with responsibility for all warships once they were at sea.

The factors directly leading to the abolition of the navy's two civilian boards is considered in the second chapter. Here, reference is made to some of the problems that resulted from having a permanently appointed group of civilian comissioners (those appointed to the Navy and Victualling Boards) having to take instructions from a politically appointed and usually short-lived superior board (the Admiralty). At the heart of the problem was the developed experise of the naval commissioners (with which those at the Admiralty were rarely able to compete) and the occasional inability of the various boards to understand the particular viewpoint of the other.

Chapters 3 and 4 examine the reforms themselves. While much attention is devoted to the abolition of the two civilian boards and the administrative structure that replaced them, some attention is also given to a series of other reforms that were instituted by the Whigs upon their return to power. These included a reduction in the number of civilian officers employed, classifying the annual estimates under more distinct heads and the laying before the house of actual expenditure following competition of the financial year.

Chapter 5 gives consideration to the outcome of the reforms. It is contended that the entire reform package was an unmitigated disaster and one that caused the British Navy problems which were not to be rectified until the latter part of World War One. Yet, this has to be offset by the stated belief of most 19th and early 20th century commentators that the reforms were generally considered to be a huge success. The reasons leading to this particular assumption, combined with a general appraisal of the reforms, are the central subject matter of this, the penultimate chapter.

The thesis is rounded off with a concluding sixth chapter and a full bibliography.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85965
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: History; British Navy; Reform
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:22 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 05:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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