Francis Douglas

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Francis Douglas was for many years a purser in the Royal Navy.

In January 1801, Francis Douglas Esq. was appointed Purser of the Superb, 74 guns.

He was the father of Lt Francis Douglas, who was rewarded for his role in suppressing a violent mutiny, and Captain William Henry Douglas.


Notes:
1.  A ship's purser (also purser or pusser) is the person on a ship responsible for the handling of money on board.

The purser joined the warrant officer ranks of the Royal Navy in the early fourteenth century and existed as a Naval rank until 1852. The development of the warrant officer system began in 1040 when five English ports began furnishing warships to King Edward the Confessor in exchange for certain privileges, they also furnished crews whose officers were the Master, Boatswain, Carpenter and Cook. Later these officers were "warranted" by the British Admiralty. Pursers received no pay but were entitled to profits made through their business activities.

In the 18th century a purser would buy his warrant for £65 and was required to post sureties totalling £2,100 with the Admiralty. They maintained and sailed the ships and were the standing officers of the navy, staying with the ships in port between voyages as caretakers supervising repairs and refitting.

In charge of supplies such as food and drink, clothing, bedding, candles, the purser was originally known as "the clerk of burser." They would usually charge the supplier a 5% commission for making a purchase and it is recorded they charged a considerable markup when they on-sold the goods to the crew. The purser was not actually in charge of pay, but of necessity had to track it closely, since the crew had to pay for all their supplies, and it was the purser's job to deduct those expenses from their wages. The purser bought everything (except food and drink) on credit, acting almost as a private merchant. In addition to his official responsibilities, it was customary for the purser to act as a literal private merchant for luxuries such as tobacco, and to be the crew's banker.

As a result, the purser could be at risk of losing money and being thrown into debtor's prison; conversely, the crew and officers habitually suspected the purser of making an illicit profit out of his complex dealings. It was the common practice of pursers forging pay tickets to claim wages for "phantom" crew members that led to the Navy's implementation of muster inspection to confirm who actually worked on a vessel.

The position, though unpaid, was very sought after due to the expectation of making a reasonable profit; although there were wealthy pursers, it was due to side businesses facilitated by their ships' travels.



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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017