Surveyor of the Navy

Office of the Surveyor of the Navy
Ensign of the Royal Navy
Department of the Admiralty
Member ofNavy Board (1546-1832), Board of Admiralty (1832-1848)
Reports toFirst Lord of the Admiralty
NominatorFirst Lord of the Admiralty
AppointerPrime Minister
Subject to formal approval by the Queen-in-Council
Term lengthNot fixed (typically 3–7 years)
Inaugural holderBenjamin Gonson

The Surveyor of the Navy also known as Department of the Surveyor of the Navy and originally known as Surveyor and Rigger of the Navy was a former principal commissioner and member of both the Navy Board from the inauguration of that body in 1546 until its abolition in 1832 and then a member Board of Admiralty from 1848 to 1859. In 1860 the office was renamed Controller of The Navy until 1869 when the office was merged with that of the Third Naval Lord's the post holder held overall responsibility for the design of British warships.


The office was established in 1546 under Henry VIII of England when the post holder was styled as Surveyor and Rigger of the Navy until 1611. Although until 1745 the actual design work for warships built at each Royal Dockyard was primarily the responsibility of the individual Master Shipwright at that Royal Dockyard. For vessels built by commercial contract (limited to wartime periods, when the Royal Dockyards could not cope with the volume of work), the Surveyor's office drew the designs to which the private shipbuilders were required to build the vessels. From 1745 design responsibility was centred in the Surveyor's office, with the Master Shipwrights in the Dockyard responsible for implementation. In 1832 the Navy Board was abolished and all of its functions were brought under the sole control of the Board of Admiralty.

Before 1832 the building, fitting out and repairing of HM ships were the responsibility of the Navy Board. Originally the principal officer most concerned was the Surveyor of the Navy, who estimated annual stores requirements, inspected ships' stores and kept the Fleet's store-books and repair-bills. In the eighteenth century his duties passed increasingly to the Comptroller of the Navy. The office of Surveyor did not disappear, however, and after 1832, when the office of Comptroller was abolished, the Surveyor was made the officer responsible under the First Sea Lord for the material departments, and became a permanent member of the Board of Admiralty in 1848. In 1859 the name of the office was changed to Controller of the Navy until 1869 when the office was amalgamated with the office of the Third Naval Lord.

Office holders

Surveyor and Riggers of the Navy (1546–1611)

In date order (note that the post of Surveyor was frequently shared, which enabled the Admiralty to have competitive designs prepared for evaluation):

Surveyors and Riggers of the Navy

Surveyors of the Navy (1611–1859)

Controllers of the Navy (1859-1869)

In 1859 the post of Surveyor of the Navy was changed to Controller of the Navy

In 1869 the post of Controller of the Navy's post was merged with the office of the Third Naval Lord


  • Navy Board, Surveyor of the Navy, 1546–1832
  • Board of Admiralty, Surveyor of the Navy, 1832–1859
  • Board of Admiralty, Controller of the Navy, 1859–1912
  • Board of Admiralty, Directorate of Naval Construction, 1913–1958
  • Board of Admiralty, Ship Department, Naval Construction Division, 1959–1964

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