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‘Nipcheese’ the Beancounter: Purser accounting and accounting change in the Royal Navy 1665-1832

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

This historical accounting study is concerned with exploring and explaining the development of record-keeping, control and governance in the British Royal Navy mainly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this period, the Navy was one of the largest enterprises in Europe with worldwide operations. The victualling of ships, the provisioning and administration of supplies on board ships have not previously been examined from the perspective of accounting, controls and governance. Research in military accounting has examined influences on accounting and accounting developments in war-time. This study augments knowledge of naval accounting and looks beyond accounting development in wars.
The thesis considers the purser as a key participant in naval accounting. It examines archival records, maritime history, and other available sources to investigate the roles of the purser. Accounting practices were adopted to control food and other rations, and the purser’s (short) measure allowed for waste, early examples of cost accounting and waste allowances.
These records detail allowances for rations and related controls, which illuminate how pursers on board ship accounted for rations, alcohol, and related expenses. Early internal controls are observed in senior officers’ authorisations. These controls were mandated by centrally administered regulations and instructions.
The Regulations and Instructions for navy officers (1731-1808), are investigated. The requirements increased substantially from 1808 following external pressures on the Navy for increased accountability for acceptable expenditure control and accounting-led governance.
The study explores the next major accounting development in the Navy – the introduction of double entry bookkeeping, which first occurred in the Navy before other government organisations. The correspondence, governmental debates and reports around this development in governmental accounting are examined.
The thesis contributes to the literature on accounting emergence and change, particularly governmental and military accounting history, identifies the influences for emergence and change and elucidates the political nature of accounting.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateMar 2020

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