The title of Secretary of the Admiralty was first used in its modern sense by Samuel Pepys in 1675. By the end of the eighteenth century there were two secretaries, the First or Political Secretary, who became Parliamentary and Financial Secretary in 1809, and the Second or Permanent Secretary. The former was by custom a member of the Board of Admiralty from 1832, but was not made a Lord Commissioner until 1929; the latter was given the status of a member in 1921 and became a Lord Commissioner in 1940.
In 1872 a Naval Secretary was also appointed and in 1877 he took over the duties of the Permanent Secretary until 1882 when the latter office was revived and that of Naval Secretary abolished (this Naval Secretary is not to be confused with the later Naval Secretary in the First Lord's private office). In 1921 the Secretary became accounting officer for the Admiralty. On the abolition of the Admiralty in April 1964 he became Second Permanent Under-Secretary of State (Royal Navy) in the Ministry of Defence.
The Secretary, later the Permanent Secretary and finally the Secretary again, was the channel for submission to the Board of Admiralty, recorded its decisions and co-ordinated the work of its departments. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries he increasingly provided secretariat facilities for the various other Admiralty departments.
His department, as established after 1832, consisted of four branches: the Military (or Secret and Political), in peacetime responsible for the distribution of the Fleet and in wartime acting as the channel of communication for operational orders (in the twentieth century it worked closely with the Naval Staff; the Naval, acting as the main channel of communication for the Second Sea Lord in matters affecting the manning of the Fleet and, during the Second World War, personnel questions affecting Combined Operations Headquarters; the Civil, dealing with the civil establishment of the Admiralty; and the Legal, dealing with questions of discipline, courts martial, courts of inquiry, naval prisons, and a miscellaneous range of legal matters including, until 1875, matters affecting the High Court of Admiralty.
Later some of these branches sub-divided. In 1932 a number of financial branches were added when the Accountant General's Department was absorbed. In 1938 an Air Branch was added. The Admiralty Record Office, established in 1809, also came under the Secretary's Department.