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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

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Royal Marines

Duties of the Royal Marines

Royal Marines are soldiers who hold army rank but were always part of the Royal Navy and hence are treated as sailors in the The National Archives (TNA) records by being included in the Admiralty (ADM) record classes. When at sea they were under naval discipline, and show up in the ship’s books for victuals and wages They were a fighting force but also had disciplinary and security duties. They were stationed on the fo’c’sle and quarter-deck with their muskets to fire on enemy ships when within range. To repel boarders and when boarding other ships they had pikes and bayonets. Marines took part in shore raids and cutting-out expeditions (where an enemy ship was cut off from shore). On board they provided sentries at the captain’s door, at the slow match by the galley (the only authorized light for smokers), at the scuttle-butt (the barrel of drinking water by the main hatchway) and, during action, at the hatchways (to prevent sailors from running and hiding in the hold) and magazines (store for arms, ammunition and provisions) (Abranson). They also helped pull ropes on deck and spent much time drilling.

Marines had regular army ranks (private, corporal etc.) and were commanded, according to their numbers or the rating of the ship, by a sergeant, a lieutenant, a captain or a major. The usual ratio was one marine for every four seamen, thus a first-rate ship had about 140 marines whereas a 10-gun brig only had about twelve.

History of the Royal Marines

A regiment of 1200 land soldiers known as theAdmiral’s Regiment was raised to be distributed into His Majesty’s Fleets prepared for sea service after an Order in Council of 28 October 1664. Later, other regiments were drawn off for sea service occasionally and in 1690 two Marine Regiments were formed with soldiers recruited specifically for sea service. A separate Marine Pay Service was established in 1702, but until 1755 these regiments tended to be disbanded during peacetime. They were administered by the army whilst on land but by the navy whilst at sea.

A permanent force of 5000 Marines grouped into 50 companies was established by an Order in Council of 3 April 1755. These were administered by the Board of the Admiralty and quartered in three Divisions at the major naval ports—Chatham in Kent, Plymouth in Devon and Portsmouth in Hampshire. More companies were added and in 1802 George III designated them Royal Marines. Another Division was quartered at the army and navy town of Woolwich in Kent from 1805 to 1869. The Portsmouth Division moved to Forton barracks in nearby Gosport in 1848, and in 1861 a Depot was established at Walmer in Kent, later the Royal Marine Depot, Deal.

When the marines were on active service they were formed into tactical Companies of Battalions, each containing men from many different onshore Divisions. The supply of artillery services to the navy was provided by the Royal Artillery until 1804 when separate marine companies were formed. In 1859 these were divided into the Royal Marine Artillery (Blue Marines) and the Royal Marine Light Infantry (Red Marines.) There is a Royal Marines Museum at Eastney in Hampshire.

Royal Marines Records for Family History

A wide variety of records survive at the Public Record Office and these are described in their leaflets M45-48. In order to pinpoint the best records to search the genealogist should attempt to find in family sources such details as:

  • Ÿ Name of a ship on which he served and a date.
  • Ÿ Medals to which he was entitled. Ÿ
  • Where he lived at what dates.
  • Ÿ His Company Number and a date. Ÿ
  • Whether he was a war casualty.

Records of Officers

Unlike the army system, commissions in the Royal Marines were based on competence and not sold. There were many junior officers but limited opportunity for advancement as senior ranks were slim, thus many men who started out in the Royal Marines later bought promotion into the army. Marines officers appear in the Navy Lists.The List of Officers from 1760-1886 in ADM 192 are on 5 films starting at 1502037, described and listed by Kitzmiller in In Search of the Forlorn Hope. A Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments and Their Records 1840-WWI. There are also some from 1717 in Seniority Lists in class ADM 118, and others from 1777 in the ADM 196 series. Army Lists also contain records of Marines officers, so it is worth checking those as well, for example Hart’s Army List. Records of Officers' Service, which is partially indexed, is in ADM 196 and gives much detail of service and sometimes the father’s name and profession. TNA leaflets M46 and M47 are most helpful.

Records of Other Ranks

As in the army and navy it is easier to trace details about other ranks in the Marines if you know your ancestor’s division or company. There are some early records in State Papers (SP) but most come under the Admiralty listings in ADM. Obtain a copy of TNA leaflets M45 and M46 to pursue this further.

Royal Marines Description Books ADM 158 from 1755-1884 Chatham Division on 9 films starting at FHL film 2179743, described and listed by Kitzmiller(In Search of the Forlorn Hope. A Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments and Their Records 1840-WWI). The description books give a summary of the material in the attestation forms in alphabetical format under their date of enlistment and much personal detail is included.

Royal Marines Attestation Forms ADM 157 for Chatham division 1790-1883, Plymouth division 1804-1881, and Portsmouth division 1804-1881 are on 636 films commencing at FHL film 1502042, described and listed by Kitzmiller (In Search of the Forlorn Hope. A Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments and Their Records 1840-WWI). The attestation forms are listed alphabetically within divisions but under the less convenient date of discharge.

Royal Marines Records of Service ADM 159 with indexes in ADM 313 began in 1884 when each man received a unique number within his Division. A wealth of information is contained in these records.

Royal Marines Pension Records are the same as for the Royal Navy (ADM 165-166), as the Royal Hospital at Greenwich was founded to aid both Navy and Marines. Records from 1862 give considerable detail.

Royal Marines Medal Rolls Campaign and war medal rolls are in ADM 171, and gallantry medal rolls in ADM 1 and ADM 116 together with the Royal Navy.

Royal Marines Probate There is a collection of wills and administration for Royal Marines 1740-1764 in ADM 96, and others from 1786-1909 in ADM 48, indexed in ADM 142. These should be searched in addition to regular probate courts.

Muster Rolls for ships When Royal Marines are on board ship they will be in the ship’s muster rolls. The following example describes what kind of information can be found there:


CHART: Muster Roll for Royal Marines on Board HMS Bellerophon

There was a family story that Benjamin (alias Samuel) Lawrence had guarded Napoleon on his way to exile on board a British ship, HMS Bellerophon. I consulted the three books of Muster Rolls (ADM 37/5032) for March to September 1815 for this vessel.

The first volume showed that Benjamin had signed on at Chatham on 30 March 1815 but the columns for age and place of birth for the Royal Marines were not filled in, as they were for Ordinary Seamen. The right hand page had various columns giving details of his purchases on board, which included slops (clothes), bedding, tobacco, and ‘Necessaries supplied Marines on shore.

In the second volume Benjamin was again present and there was also a list of Napoleon Buonaparte’s retinue of 45 persons taken on board at sea on 15 July 1815 and provided with full victuals allowance. The muster roll also shows a long list of English prisoners bound for Dartmouth, Devon who received two-thirds victuals allowance. There is also a list of Men Run, that is jumped ship.

Volume three shows the transference of Napoleon and retinue on 7 August 1815 to HMS Northumberland in Torbay, on which ship he travelled to exile on St. Helena. The Royal Marines, including our Benjamin, having performed their duty are noted as being discharged on 12 Sep 1815 at Chatham.


Deserters from the Royal Marines were listed in the Police Gazette along with regular soldiers. An index to these deserter listings has been prepared by the Manchester and Lancashire FHS (Marsden, and address in Appendix). Six films of this magazine covering various dates between 1797 and 1840 are available, see FHL film 0951965.

There is an excellent five-page synopsis of the history and records of the Royal Marines in Bevan, but the most comprehensive reference is Thomas’sRecords of the Royal Marines, and TNA M45-48 are indispensable finding aids. Since Royal Marines were part of the navy their records in the ADM Series are explained fully by Rodger. The Family History Library Catalogue should be used in conjunction with the Public Record Office catalogue to discover other gems, and there are other materials not in either of these major sources, such as Ayshford’s Trafalgar Index. Swinnerton’s two articles entitled Soldiers and Sailors Too! (Family Tree Magazine Part 1. Vol 16 #9, page 61. Family Tree Magazine Part 2. Vol 16 #10, page 17) provide a very readable introduction to further information.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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