In 1708 the British government enacted the ‘Cruizer and Convoys Act’. One of its effects was to formalize the process of prize taking, giving practically all the money gained from the capture of enemy vessels to the captors ‘for the better and more effectual encouragement of the Sea Service‘. Every prize appeared before the High Court of Admiralty for ‘condemnation’.
It laid down exact regulations for dividing the proceeds among the various interested parties.
Distribution of Prize Money
|CAPTAINS of Marines,Lieutenants,Master and Physician, = share in||1/8|
|LIEUTENANTS of Marines,Secretary of Admiral,Principal Warrant Officers, Masters Mates,Chaplain, = shares in||1/8|
|MIDSHIPMEN, Inferior Warrant Officers, Principal Warrant Officers Mates, Marine Sergeants, = shares in||1/8|
|THE REST = shares in||2/8|
*Flag Officers to have one of Captain’s Eighths.
**Flag Officers to have one third of Captain’s share.
Appointment to one of the well-known prize money commands would mean an almost automatic fortune. Flag officers could hope to gain sums well in excess of £1,000,000 at todays values. Sir Hyde Parker was reported to have realised £200,000 (worth many times that now) when he was in command in the West Indies.
For the young gentlemen, often 2nd or 3rd sons who inherited nothing from their family, who decided to make a career at sea prize money was a useful bonus.
Prize money was handled by Prize Agents, and payment was often not prompt, sometimes taking years to be paid. This caused much frustration to captains and crews but earned the Agents large sums in interest.