A Closer Look at Rates of Pay in Aubrey’s Royal Navy

Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam by John Greenwood, c. 1752-1758
Courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum

Life in the Royal Navy had an advantage over life on land, specifically that of steady pay at quite decent rates, perhaps higher than most occupations on the shore (though not higher than work in the merchant service). Here is a look at the rates of pay for a sixth rate such as the Trincomalee in 1815. These are paid per lunar month.

Captain – £16.16.0
Lieutenant – £8.8.0
Surgeon – £14.4.0*
Chaplain – £11.10.9
Surgeon’s Mate £9.2.0
Master – £7.7.0
Boatswain – £3.1.0
Boatswain’s Mate – £1.16.6
Carpenter – £3.1.0
Carpenter’s Mate – £2.0.6
Gunner – £3.1.0
Gunner’s Mate – £1.16.6
Purser – £3.1.0
Master’s Mate – £2.12.6
Midshipman – £2.0.6
Sailmaker – £2.0.6
Sailmaker’s Mate – £1.18.6
Captain’s Clerk – £2.18.0
Schoolmaster – £2.0.6
Master-at-arms – £2.0.6
Armourer – £2.0.6
Coxswain – £1.16.6
Quarter Gunner – £1.15.6
Captain of Maintop – £1.15.6
Captain of Afterguard – £1.15.6
Cook – £1.14.6
Steward – £1.9.6
Gunsmith – £1.9.6
Midshipman (Ord.) – £1.13.6**
Able Seaman – £1.13.6
Ordinary Seaman – £1.5.6
Landman – £1.2.6
Volunteer (1st Class) – £0.13.10
Volunteer (2nd Class) – £0.12.4
Volunteer (3rd Class) – £0.10.9

*Surgeons had a sliding scale based on years of experience. They were allocated to ships according to their pay, hence a sixth rate would have a less experienced man than a first rate.

Over 20 years – £25.4.0
Over 10 years – £19.12.6
Over 6 years – £15.8.0
Under 6 years- £14.0.0

Physicians, who were more highly qualified earned even more.

** A midshipman ordinary was a boy who had been made up to the rank but not the post by the captain. They did the work of a midshipman but did not receive the pay. They got the pay of an able seaman.


On top of this officers and certain warrant officers were given an allowance for servants which they could use if they wished. Most of them had the ‘volunteers’ (boys who were learning the seaman’s trade) as their servants and therefore were already on a wage. The allowance could then be added to their pay. This was paid at 19s per calendar month (the distinction between lunar and calendar months is significant and in this instance would save the Admiralty a considerable sum). Servants on a sixth rate such as the Trincomalee (240 men) were allocated thus:

Captain – 8 servants = £91/4/0 p.a.
First Lieutenant, Boatswain, Gunner, Carpenter – 2 servants = £22/16/0 p.a.
Other Lieutenants, Cook, Purser, Chaplain, Surgeon, Master – 1 servant = £11/8/0 p.a.

From this we can see that the addition of the ‘servant allowance’ was a useful sum to add to an officers pay.


There were some deductions from pay which were calculated thus:

6d per month was paid by everyone, officers and seamen alike to the upkeep of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich.

1/- per month paid by all warrant officers into the Greenwich Chest for the benefit of sick and hurt seamen.

3d per pound annually levied on all officers for the Officer’s Widow’s Fund.

In addition to this Billy Pitt’s introduction of Income Tax in 1799 on anyone earning more than £60 p.a. removed even more. This was calculated on a sliding scale downwards with the highest rate being 2/- in the pound for salaries over £150 p.a.

Our captain will then be taking away (approximately) £255/19/0 p.a. (after deductions). Compare this to the captain of a first rate who would be paid £721/16/2.

A Lieutenant of a sixth rate might expect £100/15/0 and a Master £91/14/9. A surgeon (under 6 years) £60/8/9, while Carpenters, Gunners, Boatswains and Pursers would receive £48/13/6.


Any officer ‘on the beach’, either permanently (retired) or while awaiting a new ship or commission would be put on half-pay. They did not actually get half of what they might earn if employed but the rates were actually slightly better than that. For example a lieutenant at sea earned 6s per day while the lowest half-pay rate was 5s per day. There were some 3,000 lieutenants on the list and only the top 300 got the full half-pay of 7s per day. You will note that this is actually more than their sea-pay! Below that 700 got 6s per day and the rest got the 5s. The rates are calculated on a sliding scale according to seniority, not according to whatever rate their last ship was. So a captain recently made post would receive less than one with ten years seniority. It did not signify that he may have been on a higher rated ship than his senior counterpart. In 1815 half-pay was paid quarterly.

Half-Pay Rates (per day)

Captain 14/9 – 10/6
Lieutenant 7/- – 5/-
Master 7/- – 5/-
Surgeon 15/- – 5/-
Purser 5/- – 3/-

Standing warrant officers did not get half-pay but were entitled to a pension.

Courtesy of the Historic Maritime Society.

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