How to look for records of... Royal Navy ratings’ pensions

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1. Introduction

Until the late 19th century, there were three principal bodies responsible for the payment of various naval pensions to ratings:

  • The Navy Pay Office
  • The Chatham Chest (later the Greenwich Chest)
  • The Royal Greenwich Hospital

Records of all these bodies are held at The National Archives under the department code ADM. Before pensions became a right, it may also be worth checking for petitions for pensions in the records of the Secretaries of State (in SP) and the Privy Council (PC).

From the late 19th century, various other departments became involved, such as the Paymaster General (PMG), and the Ministry of Pensions (PIN).

2. Superannuation pensions

The Royal Greenwich Hospital paid small out-pensions to large numbers of deserving applicants who had served in either the Navy or Marines, as well as admitting a fixed number to live as in-pensioners of the hospital. Out-pensions were a form of superannuation in that claimants had to show former service in the Navy or Marines, but there was no bar to them holding other employment, as the pensions were scarcely sufficient to live on. Many out-pensioners of the Hospital were still young men in the full employment. It was possible for both in and out-pensioners to re-enter the Navy, at which point their pensions lapsed until their discharge.

2.1 Candidates for Greenwich Hospital pensions or other relief

Date Range Pension Type Catalogue reference
1737 – 1859 Ratings ADM 6/223-266 (ADM 6/223-247 are searchable by name)
1789 – 1859 Ratings ADM 6/271-322
1813 – 1834 Ratings ADM 6/267-269

2.2 Greenwich Hospital in-pensions

Date Range Pension Type Catalogue reference
1704 – 1846 Ratings ADM 73/36-41
1704 – 1863 Ratings ADM 73/51-62
1737 – 1763 Registers of candidates for admission to Greenwich Hospital ADM 6/223-224
1756 – 1822 In-letters, Greenwich Hospital, relating to the admission of pensioners. ADM 65/83-97
1764 – 1865 Ratings ADM 73/65-69
1779 – 1866 Ratings ADM 73/42-50
1781 – 1784 Registers of candidates for admission to Greenwich Hospital ADM 6/225
1781 – 1809 Ratings ADM 73/95-131
1790 – 1865 Ratings ADM 73/1-35 (searchable by name)
1813 – 1834 Numerical list of candidates for Greenwich Hospital ADM 6/267-268
1815 – 1859 Registers of candidates for admission to Greenwich Hospital ADM 6/226-266 (ADM 6/226-247 are searchable by name)
1863 – 1869 Ratings ADM 73/63-64
1868 – 1870 Ratings ex Greenwich Hospital pensions WO 23/24

2.3 Greenwich Hospital out-pensions

Date Range Pension Type Catalogue reference
1781 – 1809 Ratings ADM 73/95-131
1814 – 1846 Ratings and others ADM 22/254-443
1819 – 1821 Temporary pensioners ADM 6/321
1842 – 1862 Ratings WO 22
1845 – 1854 Royal Greenwich Hospital pensions WO 4/887-891
1863 – 1869 Ratings ADM 73/63-64
1879 – 1921 Seamen and marines living abroad PMG 71/5-13

2.4 Pensions, First World War onwards

Date Range Pension Type Catalogue reference
1914 onwards Sample case files from all services PIN 26 and PIN 82
1921-1926 Ratings PMG 72/1-2
1922-1925 RNR Ratings ADM 23/170

3. Certificates of service

To qualify for pensions, ratings had to prove their qualifying service, which they did by certificates issued by the Navy Pay Office. The certificate was an abstract of successive postings derived the ships’ musters. Before the introduction of continuous service registers for ratings, in the mid 19th century, these certificates formed the only official evidence of the careers of ratings. Collections survive of both the original certificates as received by Greenwich, and the Pay Office’s entry books of the certificates as issued. The certificates of service give only the rating, the ships served in and the length of time in each.

Much of the following series are searchable by name

Pension Type Date Range Catalogue reference
1802-1919 Navy Pay Office. Indexes in ADM 29. ADM 29 (searchable by name and viewable online (£)
1790-1865 Greenwich Hospital ADM 73/1-35 (searchable by name)

In 1856 continuous service for ratings was introduced with the aim of granting a pension to all who served 20 years. The majority of ratings entered as boys, signing their first engagement at 18 and therefore retired at 38, or 43, for those who signed on for a ‘fifth five’. This left a man with much of his working life remaining and naval pensioners often were still working. The Navy employed pensioners in many duties in dockyards and naval establishments. Few records of pensions to ratings survive but from the continuous service engagements and service registers it is possible to tell who received pensions: see MRI 31.

4. Wounds and disability pensions

Pensions for permanent disablement or grants to wounded ratings were paid by the Chatham Chest, on production of a certificate known as a smart ticket. For pensions 1653-1799, see ADM 82; for pensions 1831-1837, see ADM 22/52.

For a sample of disability pension awards from the First World War, see PIN 26/16684-17178.

5. Widows’ pensions

5.1 Chatham Chest, 1695-1779

The pay books of the Chatham Chest record payments of pensions to widows of ratings who died in service, 1695-1779: see ADM 82/12-119.

5.2 Royal Bounty, 1675-1822

A lump sum of one year’s wages known as the Royal Bounty was payable to widows, dependant children or mothers (aged over 50) of ratings killed in action. Papers submitted to claim the bounty often include marriage and death certificates, with other documents attesting the age, relationship or poverty of the applicants.

Date Range Additional Information Catalogue reference
1675 – 1722 With gaps ADM 106/3023-3025
1747 – 1752 ADM 106/3026-3027
1805 – 1822 ADM 106/3028-3035
An index is available at The National Archives

Pay lists of the Royal Bounty, 1739-1787, giving name, address and relation of the payee, the name, quality and ship of the dead man, and the sum paid, are in ADM 106/3018-3020.

5.3 Greenwich pensions

Date Range Additional Information Catalogue reference
1882 – 1917 Registers ADM 166/1-11

5.4 Other pensions

Date Range Additional Information Catalogue reference
1892 – 1911 Deaths in warlike operations ADM 166/13
1911 – 1933 Deaths not in warlike operations ADM 166/14
1901 – 1917 Deaths in warlike operations, but not in the First World War, 1914-1918 ADM 166/12
First World War An 8% sample from all the armed services. See Military Records Information M015. PIN 82

5.5 Merchant seamen in Admiralty employ

Date Range Additional Information Catalogue reference
April 1914 – March 1928 Allowances to widows, dependants and children of specially entered mercantile crews, crews of mercantile ships commissioned as HM ships, and auxiliary craft, killed during naval warlike operations. Name and address of claimant, name and rank of person killed, name of ship/submarine, rate of pension. Widow’s age may be given PMG 56/1-9
1918-1925 Officers and men of the mercantile marine killed or injured in Admiralty employment, pension grants PIN 15/1733-1736
1919-1925 Royal Naval Reserve, claims to pension PIN 15/209-211
Guide reference: Military Records Information 62