This page is part of a website based on the life and achievements of eighteenth-century inventor Henry Cort.Please email site controller Eric Alexander with any comments or queries.



The navy agentís finances


It is clear that Cort receives a respectable income as a navy agent, although there are few clues about its sources.For one thing, he employs at least one clerk.


The most notable one is John Kendrick.As early as 1762, pension records show him receiving widows' remittances on behalf of Batty & Cort.He witnesses Dandy Kidd's will in 1772.Later he will set up his own agency in Crutched Friars.


In 1770 the job of collecting widow's pensions passes from Kendrick to a new clerk, Richard Ashton.Cort is not always happy with Ashton's work, blaming him for difficulties that lead to Parry's lawsuit.


A third clerk named by Cort is James Charronneau, who with Kendrick draws up an account for Coningsby Norbury that Cort will have to explain away many years later.Probably the same clerk who witnesses Cortís first marriage.


So how is this income obtained?


Some accounts say Cort charges a commission: this is not apparent from the accounts submitted for the Clarke or Parry lawsuits.


On the other hand, the account submitted for Coningsby Norbury by Oliver Toulmin, who takes over Cort's clients after 1773, shows Toulmin deducting a 2.5% commission (six pence per pound, in days when the pound contains 240 pence) from each remittance of Norbury's half-pay.


Cort's accounts do, however, cite interest on accounts in the red.This occurs quite frequently: officers making purchases abroad debit their accounts, which will not be squared until they return and receive their pay.They are effectively running an overdraft, and Cort charges interest as any banker would.


Doubtless he acts like a banker, too, for accounts in the black, using the surplus to invest on his own behalf.There are certainly instances of Cort lending out or investing money.In 1782, long after the end of his period as navy agent, he is reckoned to be owed some £6,500.


Some naval documents at the National Archives bear the names of agents on their first or last pages.Notable here are reports drawn up by Cortís client Edward Pulliblank, master of the Grafton and Favourite during the 1760s, describing installations in foreign ports such as Manila and Trincomalee.Since such reports must have value to the Navy, itís likely that the writer ensures receipt of a financial reward by depositing them with his agent, who doubtless takes a cut.


Although some navy agents are involved in salvage contracts, PRO records show no evidence for this in Cortís business.



It remained generally true that no rating, and officers only to a very limited extent, could draw their pay in cash before the ship paid off.All those discharged from the ship before then (and ships discharged 50 per cent of their companies a year on average) received only a ticket for their wages, encashable on board on the day of paying off, and thereafter at periodic 'recalls'.These tickets could be assigned, and there was a flourishing trade in buying tickets at a discount.

From N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World (London, 1986)

The market must have been flooded with foreign coins after 1742 and 1762, when British ships captured the Spanish galleons bringing to Spain the year's accumulated treasure from its American possessions.Their value was distributed in specie among the crews.The Navy pay office made this as difficult as possible.Litigation dragged on for years.

From Liza Picard, Dr Johnson's London (Weiden-feld & Nicholson 2000)

Prize money was not divided throughout the fleet, but only to those crews who were actually present at the capture of the prize.There could therefore accrue to individual Officers and men a number of prizes in which they were interested, but it would take years before the actual prize money was received.When the Officers and often illiterate seamen were at sea, they could not possibly deal with the legal and financial formalities in obtaining the prize money due to them.So grew up the practice of Prize Agency.

From Geoffrey Green, The Royal Navy and Anglo Jewry 1740-1820 (1989)


It is evident from these quotations that there is potentially a fortune to be made from buying up entitlements to pay and prize money.Although there is no record of Cort ever acting as official Prize Agent, he may still have benefited from the entitlements of his clients up to the end of the Severn Years War in 1763.He can go to the Prize Agent and collect the award on the clientís behalf, possibly deriving some income for himself in the process.Such transactions will not appear in the National Archives.


Better still if he acts for any of the crew of His Majestyís ships Active and Favourite, who capture the Spanish treasure ship Ermiona in 1762.Her haul is reckoned to be worth some £1.6 million (nearly £100 million at today's prices), with total prize money assessed as £519,705.


The ships' captains and their admiral get the lion's share: £65,000 apiece.


The humble seaman (normally on nineteen shillings a month) is eventually awarded an entitlement of £485.Long enough to wait before the sum is decided: how much longer before he actually receives it?


Put yourself in his position.You have a ticket which entitles you to claim your bounty money.You are supposed to hold on to it while the powers-that-be work out your share.Then you have to go to the right place, where the Prize Agent will present you with your award.


Or you can sell your ticket to someone with money up-front.What he pays may turn out to be less than your entitlement.But could you resist an offer of, say, £200?


Very profitable for a middleman who can buy up a few dozen tickets, notching up an eventual profit of some £300 per ticket.Do Batty, Cort or any of their employees ever act as such middlemen?Once again National Archives donít provide the answer.




Related pages


Navy agentís business

Toulmin and other agents

Cortís clients

Navy office associates


Life of Henry Cort




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