1893 text

Pepys gives some particulars about the Chest on November 13th, 1662. “The Chest at Chatham was originally planned by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins in 1588, after the defeat of the Armada; the seamen voluntarily agreed to have ‘defalked’ out of their wages certain sums to form a fund for relief. The property became considerable, as well as the abuses, and in 1802 the Chest was removed to Greenwich. In 1817, the stock amounted to 300,000_l._ Consols.” — Hist. of Rochester, p. 346. — B.

3 Annotations

Pauline   Link to this

from L&M Companion
A fund established in 1590 for the relief and support of disabled seamen, its income derived mainly from compulsory contributions. It was managed by a board wgich was supposed to meet monthly and which consisted of five officers of the Chatham yard (its clerk being usually the Clerk of the Survey), under the presidency of a Principal Officer. It had no medical adviser, and beneficiaries were required to travel to Chatham where the chest intself (now in the National Maritime Museum) was kept. Its administration was lax despite occasional attempts at reform, and its income often used for other pruposes. Payments, not surprisingly, were intermittent throughout the 17th century. Nothing seems to have come of an order for an investigation issued by the Admiral in Oct. 1660. But a commission of enquiry was set up in Nov. 1662, and of the 19 members Pepys proved the most active. Their letter book shows that after a slow start they pursued their enquiries with vigour in the spring of 1664, fastening their criticisms particularly on Batten (who was Master) and Commissioner Pett. The chest's functions were largely transferred in wartime to the Commissioners of the Sick and Wounded. Pepys had a plan in the '80s for bringing merchant seamen into the scheme, but it was never effected and the Chest remained a byword for inefficiency and corruption until its absorption into Greenwich Hospital in 1803.

Pedro   Link to this

Chatham Chest.

For a picture see:


Glyn   Link to this

One of the first naval charities: it lasted for over 200 years from about 1590, and paid pensions to wounded and disabled seamen and those injured in the naval dockyards. During the period of the Diary the scale varied from £6 13 shillings and 4 pence (i.e. six and two/thirds pounds) and the same amount each year thereafter for the loss of one leg, or twice that for both; 15 pounds a year for the loss of both arms, 5 pounds a year for a disabled arm, 4 pounds a year for the loss of an eye and so on).

The Chest was inefficient, and Pepys and his colleagues on the Navy Board set up a similar body, The Sick and Wounded Commission, in 1664 which also cared for Dutch prisoners of war and which campaigned for a purpose-built naval hospital (which was eventually built many years later at Greenwich).

In 1666 another Commission was established to distribute funds to the widows of those killed in action, on a scale ranging from £200 to the widow of a captain on a First Rate warship, down to £5 for the widow of an ordinary seaman on a Sixth Rate. This Commission was absorbed into the Navy Board in 1674.

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