To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
The National Archives holds numerous different kinds of naval pension records, dating as far back as the early 17th century. They were created and maintained to record officers’ applications and qualifications for pensions, as well as registers and other documents recording the granting and receipt of pensions. For a comprehensive break down of these records see our guide to Royal Navy officers’ pensions.
Lieutenants’ passing certificates 1691-1902
In 1677 the Admiralty introduced examinations for prospective lieutenants to test whether individuals had the necessary experience and skills. They were awarded a certificate if they passed. These certificates, which can provide information about a man’s service prior to the exam, usually recorded the age, date and place of birth of the officer as well as the names of the ships he had served on.
Find document references for passing certificates by consulting the name index in Bruno Pappalardo’s Royal Navy Lieutenants’ Passing Certificates 1691–1902 (List and Index Society Vols 289–290), available at The National Archives library. Certificates from 1677-1690 have not survived.
Returns of officers surveys 1817-1861
Between 1817 and 1861 the Admiralty sent out a number of surveys for officers to complete and return. Though many officers did not receive or return their forms, some returns do survive.
Search ADM 9 by name for document references for returns of the 1817 survey from admirals, captains, commanders and some lieutenants (ADM 9/1-9). For the rest of the lieutenants’ returns of the 1817 survey and all the returns from the 1846 survey (ADM 9/10-61) locate the paper version of the catalogue in the reading rooms at Kew and follow these steps:
- Step 1: Find the printed name indexes in the ADM 9 folder
- Step 2: Locate the name of an officer in the index and note the folio number
- Step 3: Browse from ADM 9/10 in the catalogue (online or the paper version) to find the range of folio numbers which includes the number you noted at Step 2 – this provides you with your document reference
Black books 1741-1815
The Admiralty kept ‘black books’ to record the names of officers guilty of misconduct and who were not to be employed again. Consult ADM 12/27B-27D, and the name index in ADM 12/27E, for the black books covering commissioned officers 1741-1815.
Courts martial records
Courts martial records range from detailed records of proceedings to only the briefest details. The majority are held in ADM 1. Read our research guide on Royal Navy correspondence and papers for advice on how to find records in ADM 1 using the indexes and digests in ADM 12.
Leave books 1783-1846
Leave books usually record the date an officer applied for leave, for what period of time, in what service or to what place and a date of return. Select leave books by year range from the following sets of document references:
- ADM 106/2972 for captains and lieutenants on leave between 1762 and 1764
- ADM 6/200-206 for officers granted leave to go abroad while on active duty between 1804 and 1846
- ADM 6/207-211 for officers granted leave while on half pay between 1783 and 1846
Seniority lists 1780-1886
Seniority lists are arranged by rank and provide the dates on which commissioned officers received their first commission (or warrant officers received their first warrant) to a rank. You can search for the official, printed seniority lists in ADM 118. For sea officers and officers on half pay 1717-1846 browse from ADM 118/1 to find a document by year range.
Records of cadets at the Royal Naval Colleges at Dartmouth and Greenwich 1876-1964
Among the various records that survive of cadets training to become officers at the Royal Naval Colleges are the following:
- examination results from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich 1876–1880 in ADM 203/21-40
- examination results from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich 1907–1957 in ADM 203/44-44
- lists of cadets studying at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth 1931-1942 in ADM 203/104-137
- lists of cadets studying at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth 1946-1968 in ADM 203/151-198