Prize courts and distribution of spoils

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Prize Courts and
distribution of spoils


Aboard a King’s Ship of the Royal Navy the Articles of War spelled out the terms of discipline and punishment, and various other orders from the Admiralty governed pay and shares. The situation was somewhat different aboard a privateer. Whereas the Articles of War made it nearly impossible for an enlisted man to leave his ship, no such situation existed aboard a privateer


The men served of their own free will, and could leave at any time. Likewise they had much more say in the way the ship was run. To keep things going smoothly, captains of privateers put together agreements between themselves and their crew which all the men would sign.

The following are typical articles of agreement as have commonly been entered into by the captains of privateers and their crews.

Articles agreed between captain on the one part, and the ship’s company on the other, witnesseth,

1 That the captain, for himself, and on behalf of the owners of the ship, shall put on board her great guns, swivels, powder, shot, and all other warlike ammunition necessary for them; as also small arms, and provisions sufficient for the ship’s company for a six-month cruise at sea. In consideration of which, the owners, or their assigns, shall lie reimbursed (out of the first prize or prizes taken by the ship before any dividend is made thereof) the whole charge of warlike stores (great guns and small arms excepted) victualling, advance-money, and the expenses the owners are at for surgeon’s chest and a set of music; after which, one half of the nett proceeds of such prize or prizes, as shall be taken, to be for the account of the owners, and at the disposition of the managers; and the other half of such nett proceeds to be the nett property of the ship’s company; the captain’s share of which to be six per cent, and the residue to be divided in the proportions mentioned in the eleventh article of the presents.
2 That for preserving decorum on board the said private ship of war, no man is to quit or go out of her, on board of any other vessels, or on shore, without leave obtained of the commanding-officer on board, under the penalty of such punishment as shall be esteemed proper by the captain and officers.
3 That it shall be entirely in the captain’s power to cruise where he shall esteem most beneficial to the interest of the owners and ship’s company.
4 That, if any person be found a ringleader of mutiny or, causing a disturbance on board, refuse to obey the command of the captain and officers, behave with cowardice, or get drunk in time of action, he or they shall forfeit their share, to be divided amongst the ship’s company, and be otherwise punished according to law.
5 That all clothes, bedding, watches and rings in wear, buttons, buckles, and what else is deemed small plunder by custom, is to be divided amongst the ship’s company, according to their several stations, the captain not to interfere with them.
6 That if any person shall steal, or convert to his use, any part of the prize or prizes, or be found pilfering any money or goods, and be convicted thereof, he shall forfeit his share to the ship and company.
7 The captain has the power of taking, out of any prize or prizes, whatever stores he may judge necessary for the ship, without paying for them; provided the prize is not disabled thereby.
8 That whosoever first spies a sail, which proves to be a prize, shall have seven pounds, and the first man proved to board a prize before she strikes, shall have a gratuity of ten pounds for his bravery, to be deducted out of the gross sum of the prize.
9 That if any private man shall lose a leg, arm, or eyes, in the time of action, or in the ship’s service, he shall have a gratuity of £25, and in proportion to the officers, exclusive of shares; the said sum to be deducted out of the gross sum of the prize; and, in case of mortality under cure, the said gratuity and shares to be made good to their assigns.
10 That for the further encouragement of the said private ship of war’s company, it is agreed that the chief officers shall have six guineas, the petty officers and able seamen five guineas, able-bodied landmen three guineas, and boys one guinea, advanced to them.
11 That the half of the nett proceeds of all prizes taken by the ship which is appropriated to the ship’s company, be divided amongst them in the manner following, after the captain’s six per cent is taken thereout as above.When the captain has not the above-mentioned 6 per cent., but divides with the ship’s company, he commonly has twelve shares, as follows, viz:

Shares in prize money

  • Captain 12
  • Lieutenant 5½ to 6
  • Second lieutenant 4½ to 6
  • Third lieutenant 3½ to 5
  • Master 3½ to 5
  • First mate 3 to 4
  • Second mate 2 to 3
  • Surgeon 3½ to 4
  • Surgeon’s mate 2½ to 3
  • Gunner 3
  • Gunner’s mates 2
  • Carpenter 3
  • Boatswain 3
  • Boatswain’s mates 2
  • Master-at-arms 1½ to 2
  • Armourer 1½
  • Midshipmen 1½ to 3
  • Quarter-masters, to each 1½
  • Quarter-gunners, to each 1¾ to 2
  • Sail-maker 1½
  • Ship’s cook 1½ to 2
  • Able seamen 1½ to 2
  • Sea and land boys ½ to ¾
12 That, on the death of the captain, the command do devolve on the next officer, and so on in rotation; and, for the encouragement of the able seamen and others, on the loss of officers, they are to be replaced out of the ship’s company, according to their gallant behaviour, as the captain shall appoint.
13 That whoever deserts the ship within the time herein-under-mentioned, shall forfeit his prize-money to the owners and company, to enable them to procure others in their room.
14 All and every one on board does covenant and agree to serve on board the said ship the term of six months, beginning at the said ship’s departure.
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