::Hired armed vessels


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Armed cutter, etching in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Royal Navy made use of a considerable number of hired armed vessels. These were generally smaller vessels, often cutters and luggers, that the Navy used for duties ranging from carrying despatches and passengers to convoy escort, particularly in British coastal waters, and reconnaissance.<ref name=Winfield>Winfield (2008), p.387.</ref>

The Navy Board usually hired the vessel complete with master and crew rather than bareboat. Contracts were for a specified time or on an open-ended monthly hire basis.<ref name=Winfield/> During periods of peace, such as the period between the Treaty of Amiens and the commencement of the Napoleonic Wars, the Admiralty returned the vessels to their owners, only to rehire many on the outbreak of war.

The Admiralty provided a regular naval officer, usually a lieutenant for the small vessels, to be the commander. The civilian master then served as the sailing master.<ref name=Winfield/> For purposes of prize money or salvage, hired armed vessels received the same treatment as naval vessels.

However, Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, wrote that throughout his life he "discouraged any friend of mine from serving in a cutter or hired armed vessel."<ref name=Brenton/> He felt that a good officer would be wasting his time in such vessels, while a bad officer should not be allowed to serve in them. Cutters and hired armed vessels generally did not receive the sort of opportunities that would allow a good officer to shine, or give him visibility to senior officers, while giving bad officers too much independence. The most suitable officers were good sailors with a common education.<ref name=Brenton>Brenton (1838), Vol. 2, p.96.</ref>

However, some officers that served in hired armed vessels went on to have distinguished subsequent naval careers. A case in point was Thomas Ussher, who went from the hired armed brig Colpoys to become an admiral.

Hired armed vessels sections
Intro  Numbers and types  Service records  Letters of marque  Arming of merchantmen  Notes  References  External source  

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