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Shipsí pursers


Not all Cort's clients are officers: other ranks and post-holders appear, notably pursers.


Read Rodger's account of a purser's tasks in The Wooden World, and you will be struck by the scale of their responsibilities, which include maintenance of ship's stores and distribution of items such as tobacco to the ship's company.


Pursers have to keep records of stores and purchases, and advance money from their own accounts to cover costs.Their records are submitted for scrutiny, leading to long delays in recouping these advances.On a bad day they may suffer huge financial loss.


True, there are also opportunities for profit-making, but that in turn leads to mistrust from their shipmates.You may well wonder why anyone should wish to be a purser.


Nevertheless they crop up regularly in the Cort story, showing that people are willing enough to take on the job.Jeremiah Attwick, Thomas Morgan and Valentine Nevill are all pursers.


Recíd 22 October 1785 Tobacco £77.10.1 due to the late MrJeremiah Attwick (signed) Eustace Kentish for Samuel Dawson Exr

†††† Entry in Isis pay book


Captain Michael Becher (not Richard Ė someoneís handwriting must have been misread) of the Goree sloop takes on the purserís job too: it being wartime, and the ship rather small, a separate purser is a luxury not available to her.


Capt Richard Beecher Commander and Purser being dead Mr Cort the Executor's Agent made application to pass this Account by Estimate having produced an affidavit from the Surgeon that the Room in which were lodged all the Accounts and papers belonging to the said Captain were destroyed by fire and the captain's papers all burnt.

From a report of deviations from the navy's normal method of accounting for stores, which gives some interesting clues about eighteenth-century pursery.


There is a revealing entry in the GuernseyĎs paybook for 1762.


Rec'd the 20 Jan 1762 £61.13.5d for the Tobacco issued on this Book & due to Mr William Dixon for Messrs Batty & Cort Atty, (signed) Adam Jellicoe.

††††† Entry in Guernsey paybook.


William Dixon is the purser, and uses Batty & Cort to collect his pay.Incidentally, he has a servant named Thomas Morgan.


The book shows his income from sales of tobacco to crew members: the cost will be deducted from their pay, and credited to his account with his agent.When he needs to buy tobacco, the cost is drawn on this account.If all goes well, income will exceed expenditure.


The Valentine Nevill story is also illuminating, particularly his attitude to his wife.


I give and bequeath the sum of one shilling and (out of charity) what goods of mine her house of Widow at Lewes in Sussex may be furnished withal to my wife Rachel... who has been all along Uniformly faithless and Disobedient to me.

From will of Valentine Nevill


His will includes several small bequests, including two to former commanders who have since become admirals.


Most of his money is left to his son John and his cousin Thomasin, who has been his housekeeper for several years.Her portion is dependent on her remaining unmarried.Ten guineas are left to "my trusty friend Henry Cort of Crutched Friars, my sole agent for several years".Cort and Thomasin are named as executors.


After Nevillís death she manages to win administration of the estate.Cort raises a complaint against her under her married name of Seibert.


Ignoring the terms of the will, she has claimed her share despite having married in the meantime.She compounds the villainy by failing to hand over money owed to Cort by Nevill at the time of his death.I leave to others the task of discovering whether the court upholds Cortís complaint (PRO, C12/1685/2).



Related pages


Life of Henry Cort

Work of a navy agent

Cortís navy clients

Financial prospects for a navy agent

Toulmin and other agents

Cortís navy office associates

Thomas Morgan