Posted on

Captain Wentworth’s trip to Portsmouth is a Victory

Captain Wentworth aboard ship

From Captain Wentworth’s Travel Journal:

Visiting Victory is ‘one off the bucket list’

So Admiral Horatio Nelson has been something of a hero of mine for… well, for as long as I can remember. My hero worship started (believe it or not) with Star Trek’s very own Captain James Tiberius Kirk. When William Shatner accepted the role he had trouble getting into the head of the starship captain whose ship and crew were more important to him than his own life. He asked the shows creator Gene Roddenberry for help in finding the character’s motivation and Roddenberry suggested he read the Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester.

Everything you need to understand Kirk resides with Hornblower – his courage, his self doubt, his sense of duty. From there it was a short hop to the wonderful Patrick O’Brien novels and more recently the phenomenal work of Julian Stockwin and Dudley Pope. From there further still, the real life stories of the men and women who served as inspiration to these novelists – Lord Cochrane, Edward Pellew, and of course Admiral Nelson.

It is because of my naval history obsession that I was able to turn up for work on my first day at the Jane Austen Centre with my own historically accurate costume. An Admiral’s dress coat and white ‘smallclothes’, breeches, stockings, waistcoat appropriate to a Napoleonic officer. I was most fortunate to be ‘offered the part’ of Captain Frederick Wentworth. I put the badge on for the first time and suddenly with immediate effect felt a pressure to live up to peoples pre-existing expectations of the character. Wentworth is one of literature’s greatest naval characters. He can hold his head high with the likes of Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, Ramage, Kidd etc.

I do my very best on a daily basis to embody all that Wentworth stands for. Honourable, courageous, purposeful, loyal, dutiful. Now comes the small confession… I am (slightly) older than Captain Wentworth. In fact I recently celebrated an important, let’s just say… round numbered birthday. To that end, my fiancée surprised me with an arranged trip to Portsmouth to visit HMS Victory.

Wentworth with his ‘Anne Elliot’

So it was that on my birthday I found myself on board this amazing 104 gun first rate ship of the line, launched in 1765, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, and Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

I simply couldn’t resist visiting without looking the part so I toured the ship in my naval attire. The naval enthusiasts will probably notice from the photos that my coat (rather than my usual Captain’s frock coat) is an exacting replica of the rear Admiral coat worn by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile.

It was a strange experience walking the decks just as Captain Hardy and Nelson would’ve done 200+ years earlier. In fact an odd symbiotic fusion of man and ship took hold from the moment I stepped aboard. I was able to get a sense of the overwhelming responsibility the captains of these ships must have felt as they ‘did their duty’ for what would then have been king and country.

It was a truly fantastic experience. I enjoyed every second of it and I think it shows in the photographs.

Boarding HMS Victory for a birthday treat


Wentworth on the quarterdeck


Pacing the upper gundeck


Making sure the 32-pounders are aimed straight


Here is Captain Wentworth concerned that his battle plan won’t work without a few other captains around the table for support.


Looking over some battle plans in Captain Hardy’s quarters


Now where did I anchor that ship again?
Posted on

Half-Pay and Prize Money: Making a Living in Britain’s Navy

Wentworth would have received both half-pay and prize money

Half-Pay and Prize Money

Captain Benwick had some time ago been first lieutenant of the Laconia; and the account which Captain Wentworth had given of him, on his return from Lyme before, his warm praise of him as an excellent young man and an officer, whom he had always valued highly, which must have stamped him well in the esteem of every listener, had been followed by a little history of his private life, which rendered him perfectly interesting in the eyes of all the ladies.

He had been engaged to Captain Harville’s sister, and was now mourning her loss. They had been a year or two waiting for fortune and promotion. Fortune came, his prize-money as lieutenant being great; promotion, too, came at last; but Fanny Harville did not live to know it.She had died the preceding summer while he was at sea.

As the Royal Navy came to its more modern organisation during the 17th Century it adopted the practice of impressment to provide the bulk of the crews.

The process of impressment was not suitable for the recruiting of officers, and the procedure adopted there was that officers received a basic pay for their rank when they were holding an appointment and half of that when between appointments (half-pay). Officers in command of ships or establishments received additional ‘Command money’ which varied with the status of the ship or establishment involved.”

Prior to 1814, Officers on shore could expect to receive payment every six months. After 1814, when so many officers were without ships, due to peace with France, this schedule was adjusted to once a quarter. Payment was based on a senority scale. A detailed chart of payments made may be found at The Napoleon Guide and ranged anywhere from £3.30 per day for Admirals to 5s per day for the lowliest of lieutenants.

Officers and men also received extra payments under the ‘Prize’ scheme. While this could arise in several different ways the most common by far was the capture of an enemy ship and its subsequent purchase by the Navy (a feasible process with wooden ships). For the ordinary sailor the amount was typically a few shillings (although it should be noted that this represented several months pay) but for the commanding officer it typically amounted to hundreds of pounds. Thus many captains had estates ashore which gave them an alternative income.

Junior officers were in a much more perilous state, as it was not really possible to keep a home on the half pay for a Lieutenant. This was part of the reason why marriage by junior officers was so frowned upon.*

While ashore, officers could refuse postings to new ships, waiting for more desirable places, but advancement was not assured and in so doing he ran the risk of being passed over a second time.


Enjoyed this article about half-pay and prize money? Visit our giftshop and escape to the world of Jane Austen.