Catalogue description High Court of Admiralty: Prize Court: Prize Papers

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Details of HCA 32
Reference: HCA 32
Title: High Court of Admiralty: Prize Court: Prize Papers
Description:

The Prize Papers of the High Court of Admiralty are papers relating to, or collected immediately after, the capture of enemy or neutral ships in wartime, by the Royal Navy, by privateers or by Customs vessels, or their seizure in port at the outbreak of war. As such, the Prize Papers are an unparelleled source of documentation for life at sea, maritime trade, and letter-writing from multiple countries, in at least 19 languages.

The Prize Papers include the notarised examinations of captured crews before commissioners in the nearest friendly port, subsequent proceedings in the High Court of Admiralty in London, and two kinds of exhibits.

The first type of exhibit is the collection of all the papers found on the ship, including ship's papers, the master's and others' private archives, and mail in transit. These were numbered by the captor or the court, and abstracts and translations were made of those not in English. The second type of exhibit comprises copies of proofs of the neutral status of the ships or cargo, notarised before the ruling authorities of neutral states. If neutral status was accepted, the relevant papers from the first set of exhibits were returned to their owners (leaving behind a ghost archive in their English translations), unless an appeal was launched: see HCA 42 and HCA 45.

Most of these ships were brought into English ports, a few into Welsh ones, and more into Irish ports (reflecting trade routes). For convenience Lisbon and Livorno [Leghorn] were also treated as friendly ports, with the English consuls there able to take examinations. Similar captures made further away were taken before colonial Vice-Admiralty Courts: see HCA 49.

Until 2013, these captures were not searchable by name: now, all except the wars of 1652-1697 have been catalogued by at least the name of the ship and the name of the master. Some wars have more detailed entries, but so far the only those ships taken in the War of the Austrian Succession [HCA 32/94-159, 1740-1748] have all been catalogued in the new pattern, giving a voyage and capture history with details of cargo, a list of court papers, and a brief listing of the ship's papers and any mail in transit. These will be given individual descriptions, and be digitised from 2022 onwards, by the University of Oldenburg, our partners in the Prize Papers Project.

Date: 1592-1855
Arrangement:

The High Court of Admiralty Prize Court only existed in wartime, being revived by commission as needed. As a result, the papers are largely arranged by war as follows:-

  • the Anglo-Spanish War, 1st Anglo-Dutch War, 2nd Anglo-Dutch War, 3rd Anglo-Dutch War;
  • the Nine Years War;
  • the War of the Spanish Succession, and the War of the Quadripartite Alliance;
  • the War of the Austrian Succession;
  • the Seven Years War;
  • the War of American Independence / American Revolutionary War and the 4th Anglo-Dutch War: uniquely, these include the case papers and exhibits for prize cases handled by the British New York Vice-Admiralty Court, brought back to London on the evacuation of New York by the British on 25 November 1783;
  • the French Revolutionary War;
  • the Napoleonic War and the War of 1812;
  • the War of 1815.

Prize Papers for the Crimean War / Russian War are in HCA 33. HCA 32 also contains some slave trade and ivory trade material between 1820 and 1855.

Digitisation in the Prize Papers Project will start with the the War of the Austrian Succession, where the papers have been newly catalogued by TNA in 2018-2021.

Sorting and cataloguing is taking place on the Anglo-Spanish War, 1st Anglo-Dutch War, 2nd Anglo-Dutch War, 3rd Anglo-Dutch War and the Nine Years War.

An interim project to identify the details of captures in the War of American Independence / American Revolutionary War and the 4th Anglo-Dutch War is taking place, supported by the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation.

Related material:

additional finding aid ZBOX 1/92/2

additional finding aid ZBOX 1/92/1

additional finding aid ZBOX 1/91

Separated material:

HCA 30 for more mail in transit

Miscellaneous objects, artefacts and documents have been transferred from this and other series to HCA 65

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Creator:

High Court of Admiralty, Prize Court, 1660-1875

Physical description: 1849 bundles and volumes
Access conditions: Available in original form unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

Pieces 1-1820 were transferred between 1856 and 1864, as specified here. It is not known exactly when pieces 1821 to 1846 were transferred, but piece 1847 came from Unsorted Miscellanea in 1981. Between June 1856 and March 1857 (HCA 32/1-1345 only). Tower of London

Pieces 1-1820 were transferred between 1856 and 1864, as specified here. It is not known exactly when pieces 1821 to 1846 were transferred, but piece 1847 came from Unsorted Miscellanea in 1981. 1863-1864 (pieces 1346 to 1820). High Court of Admiralty

Pieces 1-1820 were transferred between 1856 and 1864, as specified here. It is not known exactly when pieces 1821 to 1846 were transferred, but piece 1847 came from Unsorted Miscellanea in 1981.

Publication note:

Amanda Bevan and Randolph Cock, 'High Court of Admiralty prize papers, 1652-1815: Challenges in improving access to older records', Archives, Autumn 2018

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