The Transport Board was the British Royal Navy organisation responsible for the transport of supplies and military. It is also referred to as the Board of Transport and Transport Office.
It originated in the need to transport the British Army to Ireland in 1689 to meet the Jacobite invasion of Ireland. The responsibility for the transportation was given to a board, later named the Commission for Transportation. In time the Commission assumed responsibility for transportation to all areas, not just Ireland. In 1724 the Commission was disbanded and other Admiralty boards and several Departments of the War Office assumed its functions. This arrangement did not work well.
1794 to 1817
The division of responsibilities and abuses that followed led to the creation of another Transport Board in 1794, which was one of three Boards — Navy, Victualling, and Transportation — that then ran the Royal Navy until 1817. The Transportation Board centralized and unified the function of military transportation overseas. The Army therefore had to arrange all movement by sea through the Transport Board.
The establishment in 1794 of the Board reflected experience gained in the War of American Independence. A strong supporter was Sir Charles Middleton (later Lord Barham), the former Controller of the Navy.
The Transport Board assumed responsibility for the care of prisoners of war on 22 December 1799 from the Sick and Hurt Commissioners, and in 1806 the Transport Board had taken over the business of the Sick and Hurt Board.
In its Transport Service role, the Board was responsible for “the hiring and appropriating of Ships and Vessels for the conveyance of Troops and Baggage, Victualling, Ordnance, Barrack, Commissariat, Naval and Military Stores of all kinds, Convicts and Stores to New South Wales and a variety of miscellaneous services such as the provision of Stores and a great variety of Articles for the Military Department in Canada and many Articles of Stores for the Cape of Good Hope and other Stations”. The Board maintained resident Agents at British ports and at those foreign ports transports frequented. The Board also employed agents who travelled with the transports.
The Transport Agents represented the first quasi-professional specialization among commissioned officers. The Transport Agents were uniformed Navy officers under the employ of the Transport Board, but not being sea officers, were not subject to naval discipline. Their job was to control and organize merchant ships that the government had chartered. To assist them in their duties, Agents had a staff consisting of a Purser, Boatswain, Gunner, and Carpenter, all appointed by warrant and on Navy pay.
Hired vessels with a Transport Agent (always a Royal Navy Lieutenant but termed a Commander) aboard flew a blue ensign and a "plain blue common pendant" and could exercise authority over smaller transports that carried no Agent. In the case of a large convoys, one vessel would carry a "Principal Agent" (Commander or Captain RN) with a "Blue Broad Pendant" at the main-top-mast head. In the absence of a naval escort, the Principal Agent was in charge of the convoy.
1817 to 1862
In 1817, the Transport Board was abolished and the Board of Admiralty took over its functions. The Crimean War led to the Board's re-establishment. Then in 1861 a select Committee of the House of Commons that contained both Navy and Army officers, recommended unanimously the formation of a separate and distinct Transport Office under the sole control of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty "To carry out transport of every kind required by our government to any part of our coast and to all our colonies and possessions, including India". The result was the creation in 1862 of the Transport Department of the Admiralty, which was put under the command of an Admiral.
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- ABUSES IN THE NAVY AND BARRACK DEPARTMENTS, HC Deb 15 February 1810 vol 15 cc426-34