Royal Marines in the 19th Century

Background

Royal MarineThe Royal Marines were formed in 1664, during the early stages of the Second Dutch War. An Order in Council of Friday 28 October 1664 raised a regiment of 1200 land soldiers, to be distributed into His Majesty's Fleets prepared for sea service. The regiment was known as the 'Admirals Regiment', and also as "The Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot". In the early days the existence of the Marine Regiments depended on the exigencies of war. They were disbanded altogether in 1713, at the end of the war with Spain, not being reformed until 1739. They disbanded again in 1745, not reforming until 1755, when Britain was preparing for war with France. In April 1755 an Order in Council approved the recruitment of a total of 5000 regulars, formed into three Grand Divisions based at the Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth. The Marines totalled 50 companies and were under the control of the Board of the Admiralty. Prior to that Marines had been under the control of the Admiralty whilst at sea and the Army whilst on shore.

The Marines were never again disbanded and their numbers steadily grew. In 1802 they totalled 30,000 men, and the same year they were granted the title "Royal" by George III.

2,600 Royal Marines took part in the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, with 17 of their officers and 332 men killed or wounded.

Peace with France meant that Britain entered a period where the Royal Marines were deployed throughout the world, to protect and enlarge both the Empire and Britain's trade. This period lasted for the remainder of the nineteenth century.

Recruitment and Training

Marines were primarily ship based infantry, and seafaring skills were not therefore of prime importance. Recruiting sergeants roamed Britain, displaying posters in towns and villages throughout England. Tales were told of adventure and excitement in far off lands, and that, together with the promise of free accommodation and food whilst on board ship, and a regular wage persuaded many young men to join. Others, mindful of the fact that the Marines, like soldiers were recruited for life, were persuaded perhaps by the bounty. In 1801, at the height of the war with France, the bounty was 26, but by 1842 this had reduced to less than 4. Foreigners were sometimes recruited to make up numbers, especially during times of war.
Once the candidate had enlisted he was given a medical examination by a surgeon. The examination was a superficial one to ensure that the recruit had no obvious physical disabilities and was in a fit state to cope with the rigours of service life, and the surgeon also noted the recruit's height and appearance. The final stage was for the recruit to appear in front of a local magistrate to be attested. The recruit answered a series of questions which the Magistrate read from a standard form, swore the oath of allegiance, signed the attestation form, on which the questions and his responses were recorded, then received the bounty. The young man had signed on for unlimited service. A link to a completed Attestation form can be found at the end of this page.
The recruits mustered at one of the Divisions for training and to receive their uniforms. Barracks were near the dockyards at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth, and between 1805 and 1869 there was a further division at Woolwich. The training was mostly land based and using similar weapons and tactics to that of an infantryman.

Duties

In the early part of the 17th century there was much debate as to what were the duties of Marines. By the eighteenth century the debate had been resolved. They were totally under the control of the Admiralty, and their main roles were:-

To carry out these duties a First rate 100 gun warship required a complement of 170 Marines.

An ancestor of mine served with the Royal Marines from 1841 to 1862, first as a Private, then latterly as a Corporal. A transcript of his complete service record, including Attestation and Discharge certificates can be found here.

Further Information

If you have an ancestor who was a Royal Marine then start your search by taking a look at "Royal Marines Records in the Public Records Office". This is available online at the Public Records Office site  Public Records Office

Literature

Britain's Sea Soldiers. 2 volumes. By C. Field (1924)
The Royal Marines. By JL Moulton (1972)
Nelson's Navy. By Brian Lavery
The Royal Marines Museum Guide. The Story of Britain's Sea Soldiers.

Museums

The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Southsea, Hampshire. England. PO4 9PX