Transporting the British Army.

By Mark Tully- Illustration by Jeff Saeger

With the exception of many of the Loyalist corps, every single man of the Crown forces in America made the often treacherous journey across the Atlantic to America. Being confined to a cramped ship at sea for six to eleven weeks is an ordeal we can scarcely imagine today, and it must have been a true test of the common soldier's patience, endurance, and sanity.(1)

Sending troops overseas was an expensive proposition for the Crown. One account states that it cost over £30 sterling to send each man overseas, and admits that this is a conservative estimate. There were almost 30,000 men present at Long Island and by the above estimate the cost of transporting and supplying this force must have been more than one million pounds.(2)

Having the soldiers arrive in America healthy was of paramount concern, as sick or dead troops incurred the additional expense of caring for or replacing them.(3)

As with any excursion, there were rules and regulations that had to be followed on board the transport ships in order to make the journey safe, healthy, and orderly. The following are the official orders and instructions for His Majesty's troops on their embarking for North America:

"The commanding officer is to take care that every morning all the men be brought up on deck, the births cleaned and the bedding brought up to air if the weather will permit.

That no smoaking be permitted between decks.

That no gaming be allowed nor shall any person be suffered to vend or distribute drams of spirituous liqueurs. That as many men as possible be kept on deck in the day time. If any transports should be put into any port or harbour, no officer or soldier is to go on shore but by the consent of the officer commanding the troops on board such transports ­ and when any soldiers are allowed to go on shore a non-commissioned officer is to go with them who is to be answerable for their conduct while on shore.

The Commanding Officer will acquaint the regiment that in order to contribute towards the expence of provisions on board the paymaster General of the forces is directed to make a deduction of 3p per diem from every officer, non commissioned officer and soldier borne upon the full establishment of the regiment during the time of their being on board ship and the Colonel is ordered to take care that the agent or paymaster stop no more form any officer, non commissioned officer or soldier on account of provisions than the said 3p per diem, the commander of the transports certifying that the number of days that the troops shall have been on board their ships.

Upon arrival of the regiment in North America, the Commanding Officer is to follow such orders as he shall from time to time receive from his excellency the Honourable Lieutenant General Gage, or the Officer commander in chief of His Majesty's forces in those parts for the time being.

Given at the War Office this 15th day of August 1775 by MMC Barrington."(4)

Notice that the officers and men were expected to help pay for their transport by a maximum of 3d (three pence) per day. Carrying an entire regiment "across the pond" on a simple six or eight-week journey could therefore net the Captain of a transport somewhere close to 50,400d (£210). This was considered a tidy sum in the 18th-century, and some voyages could net the ship's owner two or three times that amount.(5)


1) The ship that carried Stephen Kemble made the trip in seven weeks (Kemble, Journals of Lieut.- Col. Stephen Kemble, 1773-1789, Gregg Press), it took Thomas Anburey's transport 11 weeks to make the journey (Anburey, Thomas, Travels Through the Interior Parts of America in a Series of Letters by an Officer, New York Times and Arno Press, 1969, Vol. I, p 15, Oct 8, 1776), Johann Ewald spent a total of 21 weeks on shipboard en route to America (Captain Johann Ewald, Diary of the American War, Yale University Press, 1979, p 7), and four companies of the 55th Regiment arrived safe and sound after a journey of 25 weeks (Kemble, p 62; P.R.O. Colonial Office series C.O. 5/5, p 61)!

2) Bell, John, An Inquiry into the Causes which Produce, and the Maens of Prevneting Diseases among British Officers, Soldiers, & Others in the West Indes, F. J. Murray, London, 1791, (page B2).

3) ibid.

4) Public Records Office, Kew, England; War Office Series WO 26/29.

5) The figures are based on the old currency system in which there are 240 pence in a pound. James Boswell, as a young, affluent Scottish gentleman, was receiving an annual allowance of £200 in 1763, and was living quite comfortably (Boswell's London Journal, Edited by Frederick A. Pottle, McGraw Hill, 1950, p.336).