The National Archives Logo
Guide reference: Military Records Information 61
Last updated: 17 March 2011

1. Why use this guide?

This guide outlines the pensions paid to warrant and commissioned officers in the Royal Navy and explains how to look for relevant records in Discovery, our catalogue.

It also lists key series of records that you can search by name, date or keyword and gives catalogue references for records according to rank and profession.

For a more detailed explanation of the content and arrangement of these records we suggest the following publications: 

  • B Pappalardo, Tracing Your Naval Ancestors (PRO, 2002)
  • NAM Rogers, Naval Records for Genealogists (PRO, 1998)

2. Essential information

2.1 Government bodies responsible for paying Naval pensions

The arrangement of Naval pension records can appear confusing and you should be aware it might take some effort to identify the most appropriate records for your research. This is because a number of government bodies have had responsibility for administering pensions at different times.

The main official bodies responsible for paying pensions to naval officers were:

  • The Navy Pay Office/Admiralty
  • The Royal Greenwich hospital
  • The charity for the payment of pensions to widows of sea officers
  • The Compassionate Fund/List (from 1885)
  • The Chatham Chest, later the Greenwich Chest (warrant officers only)

2.2 Certificates of service

When an officer applied for a commission, warrant or pension, the Navy pay office would issue a certificate to prove his qualifying service. These were the only official evidence of a Navy career until service registers were introduced in the mid 19th century.

The National Archives holds collections of the certificates issued to the requesting departments and also the Navy pay office's entry books showing that certificates had been issued. The certificates give rank, ships served on and length of time in each, but they only record service up to the date they were issued. Sometimes the departments in receipt of the certificates made further notes on them.

3. Using our catalogue to search for pension records

The National Archives' catalogue contains descriptions of the records we hold. In some cases the content of the records are available to view online but in the majority of cases you will need to come to The National Archives in Kew to see the original records.

This guide will often mention searching our catalogue for records created by the Admiralty (ADM) and Pay Master General (PMG). It will be useful for you to know how to search and browse the catalogue to find the specific records useful to you. You may find it useful to watch our animated guide on this subject and also to familiarise yourself with the information below.

  • Catalogue references are made up of a department code (such as ADM), a series number and a piece number (each piece is a single file or bundle of files)
  • The series and piece numbers are separated by a forward slash - for example ADM 23/32
  • Each record series has a number of different pieces within it - sometimes there are fewer than ten pieces but other times there are hundreds

To search within a specific record series go to our catalogue search page and enter a keyword and/or a date as appropriate. Then enter the record series code (eg ADM 73) so that you only search the pieces in that series.

To browse the pieces within a specific series mentioned in this guide, click on the link to it (eg PMG 16) then click on the 'browse from here' button on the right of the screen. Next, click on the record series code (PMG 16) on the left hand side of the screen to reveal the list of files within that series.

4. Superannuation (retirement) pensions

Superannuation, or retirement pensions, became available to different ranks at various points in the Navy's history, but there was no general retirement pension for officers until 1836. A summary of when superannuation was introduced to different ranks is shown below:

  • 1666 yard officers and some captains
  • 1672 some of the most senior warrant officers
  • 1737 most senior lieutenants
  • 1747 yellow admirals
  • 1786 captains
  • 1836 all officers

Key series for records of superannuation are:

Description of records Dates Catalogue references Tips for searching our catalogue
Miscellaneous files from the Admiralty 1563-1956 ADM 7 Search using keyword 'pension'
Office of bills and accounts: bill books 1642-1831 ADM 18 Search by date
Registers of salaries and pensions 1734-1934 ADM 22 Search by date and keyword 'pension'
Registers of pensions and allowances 1830-1934 ADM 23 Search using keyword 'pension'
Miscellaneous services, wounds, widows and pensions 1836-1920 PMG 16 Browse

5. Full and half pay pensions

Full pay records show payments made to officers who were actively employed. They give the name and dates of employment and can be used to compile a record of an officer's career.

Half pay was a retainer paid to officers who were no longer serving. These records are mainly lists of names and the money paid but they sometimes include addresses and other information. Half pay was abolished in 1938.

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Tips for searching our catalogue
Service records, registers, returns and certificates 1673-1960 ADM 6 Search with keywords 'half pay'
Officers' half pay registers 1693-1924 ADM 25  Search by date 
Registers of pensions and allowances  1830-1934  ADM 23  Search using keywords 'half pay' 
Half pay and retired pay Naval officers 1836-1920 PMG 15  Browse or search by date 
Salaried officers' civil pensions  1836-1929  PMG 24  Search by date 

6. Royal Greenwich hospital pensions

'Out-pensions' were paid by the Royal Greenwich hospital to those who had served in the Navy or Marines. The pensions were small but recipients were allowed to earn extra money by working.

The Royal Greenwich hospital admitted a fixed number of former servicemen to live as 'in-pensioners' of the hospital, many of whom were still young men in full employment.

Both in and out-pensioners could re-enter the Navy. Their pensions would stop while they served, but would start again when they were discharged.

To find records relating to the in and out pensions from the Royal Greenwich hospital, search or browse the following record series in our catalogue:

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Tips for searching our catalogue
Royal Greenwich hospital out-pensions pay books and miscellaneous registers 1704-1981 ADM 73 Search by date
Registers of salaries and pensions  1734-1934  ADM 22  Search by keywords 'gunner', 'carpenter', 'enginner', 'boatswain' or search by date 
Regsiters of pensions and allowances  1830-1934  ADM 23  Search by date 
Miscellaneous services, wounds, widows and pensions  1836-1920  PMG 16  Browse 
Greenwich out-pensions and pensions & gratuities to seamen and marines. Also masters out-pensions  1846-1921  PMG 71  Browse 
Greenwich hospital pensions and civil superannuation allowances  1866-1928  PMG 70  Browse 
Royal Greenwich hospital pensions to Naval marine officers  1871-1961  ADM 165  Browse 

7. Wounds and disability pensions

Wounds and disability pensions were paid by the Admiralty to masters and surgeons, and by the Chatham Chest to warrant officers.

The key records relating to these pensions are:

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Tips for searching our catalogue
Indexes to pensioners receiving payments 1695-1797 ADM 82/120-123 Not applicable
Registers of pensions and allowances 1830-1934 ADM 23 Search using keyword 'wounds'
Miscellaneous services, wounds, widows and pensions 1836-1920 PMG 16 Browse
Disability pay 1917-1920 PMG 42 Browse

8. Widows' pensions

In 1732 the 'Charity for the payment of pensions to the widows of sea officers' was established. It paid pensions to the poor widows of all sea officers regardless of how or when they died, but not to those who were left comfortably off.

The charity received money from parliamentary grants and from a compulsory deduction of three pence in the pound from officers' wages. It was administered by trustees but in reality it was more an official pension fund than a private charity.

Between 1830 and 1864 widows of warrant officers lost their entitlement to a widows' pension. This change applied to widows of warrant officers appointed in 1830 or afterwards, and not to the widows of men killed in service. In 1864 the entitlement to a pension was reinstated.

In 1836 the Admiralty took over responsibility for widows' pensions and made them payable regardless of the widows' income.

From 1848, widows of engineers became eligible for pensions.

For information relating to pensions to widows and other relatives, the following records series will be useful and can be searched in our catalogue by date, name or keywords:

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Tips for searching our catalogue
Chatham Chest pay books 1617-1807 ADM 82 Search by date or browse 
Papers of the commission of the charity for relief of officers' widows 1673-1960 ADM 6  Search by name 
Registers of salaries and pensions, pay books of widows' pensions 1734-1934 ADM 22 Search by date
Marriage certificates of officers 1806-1861 ADM 13/70 Search by name
Registers of pensions and allowances 1830-1934 ADM 23 Search with keywords 'widow' and/or 'relative'
Miscellaneous services, wounds, widows and pensions 1836-1920 PMG 16 Search with keyword 'widow' and/or 'relative'
Widows of Naval officers' pensions 1836-1929 PMG 19 Search by date (arranged alphabetically)

You can browse the following series in our catalogue to indentify pension records relating to widows and other relatives:

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Tips for searching our catalogue
Bill books 1673-1826  ADM 18/53-154  Browse 
Salary and pension books 1694-1832 ADM 7/809-822 Browse
Marriage certificates 1866-1902 ADM 13/186-192  Browse
Pensions and allowances to widows and relatives of officers, pilots and others killed on duty 1870-1919 PMG 20 Browse
Pensions to relatives of deceased officers 1916-1920 PMG 44 Browse 
Widows' pensions  1917-1919  PMG 45  Browse 

The following records might also be of interest:

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference
Documents relating to Royal Marines' widows' pensions 1712-1831 ADM 96/523 
Sworn statements relating to applications to charity for relief of sea officers' widows 1801-1818 ADM 30/57
Widows' pensions  1831-1840 ADM 7/615

9. Royal bounty and compassionate fund

9.1 Royal bounty 1675-1822

The royal bounty was a lump sum of one year's wages which was paid to widows, dependent children or mothers (aged over 50) of officers killed in action. When relatives applied for a payment they often submitted marriage and death certificates as well as documents to prove their age, relationship or poor financial situation.

Pay lists of the royal bounty give the name, address and relation of the payee, the name, rank and ship of the dead man, and the sum paid.

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference
Papers submitted to the Royal Bounty 1675-1822 ADM 106/3023-3028 
Pay lists of the Royal Bounty 1739-1787 ADM 106/3018-3020

9.2 Compassionate fund

The compassionate fund (later the compassionate list) was voted by Parliament and administered by the Admiralty. From 1809 it paid grants and pensions to the orphans or other dependents of officers killed in action. Warrant officers' dependents became eligible for the compassionate list from 1885.

Search or browse through the following record series in our catalogue for records relating to the compassionate fund and compassionate list:

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Search tips
Registers of pensions and allowances 1830-1934 ADM 23 Search using keyword 'compassionate'
Service records, registers, returns and certificates  1673-1960 ADM 6 Search by name
Naval establishment compassionate list  1837-1921 PMG 18 Browse
Compassionate fund  1810-1836  ADM 22/239-253  Browse 
Letters to compassionate fund  1809-1845 ADM 2/1085 Not applicable

10. Miscellaneous pension records

From 1871 some Greenwich hospital pensions (including pensions paid from special funds like Travers, Popeley and Canada) were paid to deserving warrant officers.

From 1837 good service pensions were paid to deserving flag officers and captains, and later to civil officers of equivalent rank. They could be paid even if the officer was receiving full or half pay, but not once he was promoted.

Description of records Dates Catalogue reference Search tips
Travers estate pensions 1866-1928 PMG 70  Browse or search by date 
Victoria Cross and conspicuous bravery medal pensions 1857-1859  PMG 16/10  Not applicable
Accountant General's department: officers and civilians' effects papers  1830-1860  ADM 45  Search by name 
Alphabetical register of pensions paid to French pilots  1802-1809  ADM 30/40  Not applicable 
Medical officers on retired list  1805-1875  ADM 104/66  Not applicable 
Superannuation lists  1809-1814  ADM 106/3009  Not applicable 
Officers in Holy Orders  1836-1840  PMG 15/4, PMG 15/8  Not applicable 

11. Catalogue references to pension records by rank and profession

Armourers
1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164

Artificers
1831-1837 ADM 22/52

Artificer engineers
1897-1899 ADM 23/121-123  1897-1920 PMG 16/25
1899-1932 ADM 23/145, ADM 23/151, ADM 23/161-164    

Boatswains
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1675-1799 ADM 82/12
1831-1837 ADM 22/52 1867-1921 PMG 16/3
1871-1900 ADM 23/89 1885-1921 PMG 18/21
1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Cadets
1836-1921 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8, PMG 16/13

Canteen managers
1914-1928 PMG 56

Captains
1673-1781 ADM 18/53 1689-1785 ADM 7/809
1809-1836 ADM 6/222, ADM 6/323 1809-1851 ADM 22/22, ADM 22/239, ADM 22/253
1836-1850 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3 1837-1921 PMG 18
1837-1837  ADM 23/23 1851-1920 PMG 16/8
1857-1900 ADM 23/24, ADM 23/32, ADM 23/42, ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/89, ADM 23/95 1916-1928 ADM 23/206-207
1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14 1928-1931 ADM 23/144

Carpenters
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1675-1799 ADM 82/12
1831-1837 ADM 22/52 1867-1921 PMG 16/13
1871-1900 ADM 23/89 1885-1921 PMG 18/21
1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14
1928-1931 ADM 23/144    

Chaplains
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1830-1878 ADM 23/29, ADM 23/45-46, ADM 23/55ADM 23/106-107
1836-1870 PMG 16/2-5, PMG 16/7 1866-1909 ADM 6/446
1871-1932 ADM 23/84, ADM 23/89, ADM 23/161-164, ADM 23/144-145, ADM 23/168, ADM 23/206-207 1882-1919 PMG 20/6, PMG 20/8, PMG 20/10PMG 20/12, PMG 20/17, PMG 20/22-23
1916-1920 PMG 43/1 1916-1920 PMG 44/8-9
1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14    

Chief masters at arms
1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164

Coastguard
1830-1878 ADM 23/106-107

Commanders
1673-1781 ADM 18/53 1809-1851 ADM 22/239, ADM 22/253, ADM 22/22
1809-1836 ADM 6/323, ADM 6/222 1836-1920 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8
1837-1921 PMG 18 1857-1900 ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/32, ADM 23/42, ADM 23/95, ADM 23/24, ADM 23/89
1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Cooks
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1831-1837 ADM 22/52
1675-1799 ADM 82/12    

Electricians
1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164

Engineers
1847-1921 PMG 18/7 1848-1920 PMG 16/6, PMG 16/8
1857-1880 ADM 23/30, ADM 23/31, ADM 23/76-77 1870-1882 PMG 20/1-4
1871-1900 ADM 23/89 1874-1924 PMG 69
1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Flag officers
1673-1781 ADM 18/53 1809-1836 ADM 6/323, ADM 6/222
1809-1851 ADM 22/239, ADM 22/253, ADM 22/22 1836-1920 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8
1837-1921 PMG 18 1837-1837 ADM 23/23
1857-1900 ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/32, ADM 23/42, ADM 23/95, ADM 23/24, ADM 23/89 1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144
1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14    

Gunners
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1675-1799 ADM 82/12
1831-1837 ADM 22/52 1867-1921 PMG 16/13
1871-1900 ADM 23/89 1885-1921 PMG 18/21
1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14
Lieutenants
1673-1781 ADM 18/53 1689-1785 ADM 7/809
1781-1821 ADM 22/1, ADM 22/16 1809-1836 ADM 6/323, ADM 6/222
1809-1851 ADM 22/239, ADM 22/253, ADM 22/22 1836-1920 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8
1837-1921 PMG 18 1857-1900 ADM 23/89, ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/32, ADM 23/42, ADM 23/95,

1916-1931 ADM 23/206-207, ADM 23/144 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Masters
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1675-1799 ADM 82/12
1689-1785 ADM 7/809 1708-1818 ADM 181/1
1809-1836 ADM 6/323 1809-1851 ADM 22/239, ADM 22/253, ADM 22/22
1836-1920 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8 1837-1921 PMG 18
1866-1900 ADM 23/24, ADM 23/32ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/89

1916-1931 ADM 23/144, ADM 23/206-207

Mates
1840-1920 PMG 16/3-6, PMG 16/8 1867-1876 ADM 23/76-77
1882-1919 PMG 20/6, PMG 20/8, PMG 20/10PMG 20/12, PMG 20/17, PMG 20/22-23

1899-1932 ADM 23/144-145, ADM 23/161-164, ADM 23/168-169
1916-1920 PMG 43/1 1916-1920 PMG 44/8-9
1916-1928 ADM 23/206-207 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Midshipmen
1857-1900 ADM 23/24ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/89

1867-1921 PMG 16/13
1874-1920 PMG 16/18 1917-1919 PMG 42/14
1916-1931 ADM 23/144, ADM 23/206-207    

Ordnance officers
1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164 

Pursers
1653-1657 ADM 82/1-2 1809-1836 ADM 6/323
1830-1836 ADM 22/22-23 1836-1920 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8
1837-1921 PMG 18 1866-1900 ADM 23/24, ADM 23/32ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/89

1916-1928 ADM 23/144, ADM 23/206-207 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

RFA officers
1914-1928 PMG 56 

Schoolmasters
1889-1932 ADM 23/115, ADM 23/145, ADM 23/161-164  1889-1920 PMG 16/23 

Stewards
1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164 

Sub-lieutenants
1851-1920 PMG 16/8  1857-1900 ADM 23/14, ADM 23/32, ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/89
1916-1931 ADM 23/144, ADM 23/206-207 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Surgeons
1675-1799 ADM 82/12 1689-1785 ADM 7/809
1708-1818 ADM 181/1 1809-1836 ADM 6/323
1809-1851 ADM 22/239, ADM 22/253, ADM 22/22 1836-1920 PMG 16/1, PMG 16/3, PMG 16/8
1837-1921 PMG 18 1866-1900 ADM 23/24, ADM 23/32ADM 23/76-77, ADM 23/89

1916-1931 ADM 23/144, ADM 23/206-207 1917-1919 PMG 42/13-14

Ward masters
1900-1915 ADM 23/161-164 1900-1932 ADM 23/145
1900-1920 PMG 16/26    

Warrant officers
1874-1924 PMG 69 1909-1928 PMG 36
1909-1928 PMG 33    

Writers
1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164

Wireless telegrapher ranks
Instructors in cookery 1911-1923 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164
Mechanicians 1910-1920 PMG 16/28-31
Stewards 1910-1920 PMG 16/28-31
Telegraphists 1911-1932 ADM 23/151, ADM 23/164
Telegraphists 1910-1920 PMG 16/28-31
Writers 1910-1920 PMG 16/28-31

Guide reference: Military Records Information 61

Our catalogue

Search descriptions of 20 million documents from the UK central government, law courts and other national bodies.

  • Download this guide as a PDF