Untold lives blog

11 December 2013

Midshipman Marriott and the Indian Navy spirit allowance

In December 1843, the Bombay Government wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company stating that it had come to their attention that it was common practice in the Indian Navy to give the midshipmen a daily ration of spirits.  This routine had come to the attention of Government because of the conduct of Henry R Marriott, Midshipman of the East India Company's receiving ship Hastings.

Bombay harbour Bombay Harbour from James Wales, Bombay views: twelve views of the island of Bombay and its vicinity (London, 1800)  Images Online Noc

On 13 September 1843, while the Hastings was at Bombay, Midshipman Marriott was left as the officer in charge.  The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Montriou had left the ship on an errand at about 2pm.  It was later reported to the Commission of Enquiry, that at 3pm Marriott ordered the Pursers’ Steward and the Master at Arms to issue him with one week’s allowance of spirits.  By 3.30pm Marriott was discovered passed out in the Captain’s bed, and could not be roused.  Joseph Johnston, the acting Quartermaster, carried the unfortunate Marriott down below to the Midshipmen’s berth.  Midshipman Bode reported to the Enquiry that when he came on board the ship in the late afternoon, he was told what had happened and found Marriott 'Lying down on a chest in the Gunroom, quite unable to move'.  On being pressed for a description of Marriott’s condition, Bode stated 'He was in a dead sleep, half naked and had been vomiting'.

In his defence, Marriott submitted a written statement.   He stated that finding himself in charge of the ship he felt free of the normal regulations which constituted the ordinary duties of a Midshipman, and that '…under the impression that I was free from control, and labouring at the time under the influence of depressed spirits…I was in a unlucky moment induced to take advantage of liberty which I conceived my temporary authority imparted, the result of which has been the unfortunate and degraded position in which I now find myself placed'.

The Bombay Government seems to have taken Marriott’s depression into account.  A stern warning was be issued to him regarding his conduct, along with such admonition as the Superintendent of the Indian Navy deemed most suitable and effectual.  However '…as the general character of Mr Marriott is not reported upon very unfavourably, the Governor in Council is not desirous of proceeding any further'.

Perhaps more ominously for the Indian Navy’s Midshipmen was the Bombay Government’s proposal that the allowance of spirits be altogether abolished, and replaced with some other form of compensation.  In reply, the Court of Directors stated that they thought Marriott had been treated too leniently, and that Lieutenant Montriou had been wrong to leave so young an officer in charge. They also agreed that it would be right to abolish the allowance of spirits for Midshipmen of the Indian Navy, and authorised the Bombay Government in all cases to substitute for their spirit ration an equivalent in money.

John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records  Cc-by

Further Reading:

Proceedings connected with a proposition to abolish the allowance of spirits to the midshipmen of the Indian Navy, September to December 1843 [IOR/F/4/2053/93811]

Despatches to Bombay, August to November 1844 [IOR/E/4/1076 pp.108-110]

The story of another drunken sailor



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