The Society has been saddened this year by the death of two leading naval scholars and longstanding Society members and leading figures, Pat Crimmin and Eric Grove. This post is designed to share an extract of a key piece of Pat’s scholarship published by the Society; a forthcoming post will share an extract of Eric Grove’s writing. This extract comes from Pat’s article: ‘The Supply of Timber for the Royal Navy, c.1803–c.1830’ published in The Naval Miscellany Vol.VII, NRS. Vol.153, (2008).
This extract comes from an enclosure in a letter from Lord Melville to the Marquess Wellesley. Lord Melville was then First Lord of the Admiralty, and Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess (1760–1842), was then the Governor General of Bengal.
In her introduction to the series of letters published in this article, Pat Crimmin noted the importance of Melville to solving the Navy’s timber supply problems. She wrote:
‘When the Earl of St Vincent became First Lord of the Admiralty in February 1801, he was already convinced of the corruption and waste in the royal dockyards and the inefficiency of the Navy Board, and determined on their reform. Immediate queries about timber supplies were followed, once peace was declared in 1802, by dockyard visits and detailed investigations which St Vincent expected would expose and defeat the collusion he believed existed between the timber contractors, the Navy Board and dockyard officials. As part of this plan St Vincent tried to bypass the timber contractors, buying directly from private landowners, without much success. His clear-cut service views did not sufficiently take into account the difficulties under which the Navy Board operated and his attempts raised prices even more and alienated contractors. As a result, when war was renewed in May 1803, timber stores in the royal yards were insufficient and led to problems in building and repair. The supply crisis was ended as Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty from May 1804, agreed the contractors’ prices and lifted the severest quality restrictions, so that native oak timber again became available. The Navy Board had already begun a deliberate policy of searching for and importing foreign ship timber to alleviate shortages. This policy was now more rapidly implemented and extensive plans for increasing timber stocks were unveiled shortly after Melville took office. Thereafter foreign timber was essential to the Navy.’