Transcribed from the "The Annals of Portsmouth" by WH Saunders (pub. 1880)
An old nautical anecdote is told of a sailor who, previous to an engagement, was seen by the lieutenant to be as he thought hiding behind the gun. " You are a funking, Sir," said the officer. " No, I am not," said the seaman, " I am a praying." " Praying, Sir ; what are you praying for ?" inquired the officer. " Why, Sir, said the sailor I'm praying that the enemy's bullets will be shared out like the prize money-that most will go to the officers."
And so it was as a rule, prize money had for many years been most unfairly divided, and this was one of the grievances that led to the Nore and Spithead mutinies ; for the sums realized out of the sale of captured vessels, after all expenses had been deducted were not large, and when the higher rates of appropriation for officers' shares were considered, it left very little for the men, and as Jack said " guineas for officers ; halfpence for seamen."
But there were times when prizes realized fabulous sums, and an instance may be cited, in the captured Spanish ship " Hermione," by the "Active" and "Favourite," in May 17th, 1762. On the breaking out of the Spanish war the " Active," and " Favourite " being on a cruise off Cadiz, they fell in with, and captured, without resistance, the " Hermione," a large register ship from Lima. She was the richest prize made during the war ; the net proceeds of the cargo, when all charges had been paid, were distributed in the following manner (Extracted from the Navy Chronicle):
To the Admiral, Sir Charles Saunders, and the Commodore Sir Piercy Brett - £64,963 3 9
The "Active's" Share
To the Captain, Sir Richard Dacres
£66,053 3 9
To three Commissioned Officers at £13,004 14s. ld. each
£39,014 2 3
To eight Warrant Officers at £4,336 3 2 each
£34,689 5 4
To Twenty Petty Officers at £1,806 10 10 each
£36,130 17 8
To 150 Seamen and Marines at £485 6 4 each
£76,132 13 0
£251,020 12 0
The "Favourite's" Share
To the Captain
£64,872 13 9
To two Commissioned Officers at £12,974 10 9 each
£25,949 1 6
To seven Warrant Officers at £4,324 10 11 each
£30,273 8 5
To Sixteen Petty Officers at £1,802 0 4 each
£28,832 6 3
To 110 Seamen and Marines at £484 2 5 each
£53,253 14 4
£203,181 4 3
The " Active " being entitled to the whole of the bounty money, makes the difference in the Shares between the two ships.
This treasure was landed at the Point Beach, and conveyed through the town under military escort, the sailors of the "Active," and " Favourite " carrying the captured Spanish flags headed by bands of music ; great crowds lined the streets, and the waggons passed out of the Town Gate, amidst the ringing of bells and the discharge of cannon.
On the road to London their progress was one continued ovation. At the Horse Guards they were received by a detachment of Horse, with a band, and passing Saint James's Palace, stopped and gave three cheers for the King, who with the Queen and Princesses viewed the spectacle from the Palace windows ; the treasure was ultimately conveyed to the Tower.
Jonathan Gould has written to say that the Captain of HMS Favourite was Philemon Pownoll. He went on with his money to build the Sharpham estate in Devon. In the equivalent money today the Hermione was worth around 80 million pounds. The captains shares were, in todays money, £8.9 million and the ordinary seaman received 30 years salary.