Victualling Commissioners

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A street sign in Gibraltar

The Commissioners for the victualling of the Navy, often called Victualling Commissioners, were the body responsible under the Navy Board for victualling ships of the British Royal Navy.


Previous to this supplies had been provided by outside contractors, but they were of such poor quality that the government was forced to take control in order to effectively engage in the wars against the Dutch. Though nominally under the direction of the Navy Board, the Victualling Board was effectively independent.


From 1654 it had its headquarters at Tower Hill, and laid down strict criteria on the quality of the provisions it required. In the 1660s Samuel Pepys reformed the system of having a Purser assigned to each ship to oversee the distribution of supplies, and obliged each one to lodge a cash surety, and to keep complete accounts of every item issued, in an attempt to stamp out the fairly commonplace corruption that had been notorious. (In 1658 the crew of HMS Maidstone had demolished the Victualling Office at Rochester in protest at the foul quality of the food. Their captain Thomas Penrose refused to name any of the culprits.) Though by no means perfect the system generally improved, and if the food was of poor quality, at least there was plenty of it. The Victualling Board built breweries, slaughterhouses, and bakeries near to Navy Yards to provide beer, salted meat and ship's biscuit, and modern research has shown that during the period of the Napoleonic Wars only about 1% of supplies were actually condemned as unfit to eat.


Eventually in 1832 the Victualling Board as a separate entity was abolished and its functions were assumed by the Board of Admiralty.

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