Post-captain is an obsolete alternative form of the rank of captain in the Royal Navy.

The term served to distinguish those who were captains by rank from:

  • Officers in command of a naval vessel, who were (and still are) addressed as captain regardless of rank;
  • Commanders, who received the title of captain as a courtesy, whether they currently had a command or not (e.g. the fictional Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander or the fictional Captain Horatio Hornblower in Hornblower and the Hotspur); this custom is now defunct.

In the Royal Navy of the time, an officer might be promoted from commander to captain, but not have a command. Until the officer obtained a command, he was "on the beach" and on half-pay. An officer "took post" or was "made post" when he was first commissioned to command a vessel. Usually this was a rated vessel – that is, a ship too important to be commanded by a mere commander – but was occasionally an unrated one. Once a captain was given a command, his name was "posted" in The London Gazette.[1] Being "made post" is portrayed as the most crucial event in an officer's career in both Forester's Horatio Hornblower series and O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. Once an officer was promoted to post-captain, further promotion was strictly by seniority; if he could avoid death or disgrace, he would eventually become an admiral (even if only a yellow admiral).

A junior post-captain would usually command a frigate or a comparable ship, while more senior post-captains would command larger ships. An exception to this rule was that a very junior post-captain could be posted to command an admiral's flagship, which was almost always a large ship of the line. The admiral would usually do this to keep his most junior captain under close observation and subject to his direct supervision. Captains commanding an admiral's flagship were called "flag captains". One example of this is the appointment of Alexander Hood to the command of HMS Barfleur, flagship of his brother, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood.

Sometimes, a high-ranking admiral would have two post-captains on his flagship. The junior would serve as the flag captain and retain responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the vessel. The senior would be the fleet captain, or "captain of the fleet", and would serve as the admiral's chief-of-staff. These two captains would be listed in the ship's roll as the "second captain" and "first captain", respectively.

After 1795, when they were first introduced on Royal Navy uniforms, the number and position of epaulettes distinguished between commanders and post-captains of various seniorities. A commander wore a single epaulette on the left shoulder. A post-captain with less than three years seniority wore a single epaulette on the right shoulder, and a post-captain with three or more years seniority wore an epaulette on each shoulder. In the O'Brian series, Aubrey "wets the swab" – that is, he celebrates his promotion to commander and the acquisition of his "swab" or epaulette with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.

Note that the term was descriptive only: no-one was ever styled "Post-Captain John Smith".

Royal Navy Post Captain
A 1807 depiction of a post-captain.

See also


  1. ^ "The London Gazette - Treasure Trove of Historical Information". London Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-30.

External links

Aubrey–Maturin series

The Aubrey–Maturin series is a sequence of nautical historical novels—20 completed and one unfinished—by Patrick O'Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centering on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, a physician, natural philosopher, and intelligence agent. The first novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969 and the last finished novel in 1999. The 21st novel of the series, left unfinished at O'Brian's death in 2000, appeared in print in late 2004. The series received considerable international acclaim and most of the novels reached The New York Times Best Seller list. These novels comprise the heart of the canon of an author often compared to Jane Austen, C. S. Forester and other British authors central to the English literature canon.The 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World took material from books in this series, notably Master and Commander, HMS Surprise, The Letter of Marque, The Fortune of War, and particularly The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe played the role of Jack Aubrey, and Paul Bettany that of Stephen Maturin.

Captain (naval)

Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships. The rank is equal to the army rank of colonel.

Equivalent ranks worldwide include "ship-of-the-line captain" (e.g. France, Argentina, Spain), "captain of sea and war" (e.g. Portugal), "captain at sea" (e.g. Germany, Netherlands) and "captain of the first rank" (Russia).

The NATO rank code is OF-5, although the United States of America uses the code O-6 for the equivalent rank (as they do for all OF-5 ranks).


A cholagogue is a medicinal agent which promotes the discharge of bile from the system, purging it downward. The operation is more recommended because the biliary purge, alike the traditional kidney purge, can cause pancreatic problems.

In Patrick O'Brian's Post Captain (Ch. 10), which is set in the Napoleonic era, Stephen Maturin, one of the book's main characters (who is also a physician, naturalist and spy) sits in the snug of the Rose and Crown in Deal, Kent, and drinks a "good" tea described as an "unrivalled cholagogue".

Cyclovalone is a choleretic and cholagogic agent.

Commander (Royal Navy)

Commander (often abbreviated Cdr) is a senior officer rank of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. It is immediately junior to captain and immediately senior to the rank of lieutenant commander. Officers holding the junior rank of lieutenant commander are not considered to be commanders.

Flag captain

In the Royal Navy, a flag captain was the captain of an admiral's flagship. During the 18th and 19th centuries, this ship might also have a "captain of the fleet", who would be ranked between the admiral and the "flag captain" as the ship's "First Captain", with the "flag captain" as the ship's "Second Captain".

Unlike a "captain of the fleet", a flag-captain was generally a fairly junior post-captain, as he had the admiral to keep an eye on him, but – like a "captain of the fleet" – a "flag captain" was a post rather than a rank.

George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith

Admiral of the Red George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith GCB (7 January 1746 – 10 March 1823) was a British admiral active throughout the Napoleonic Wars.

Henry Prescott

Admiral Sir Henry Prescott (4 May 1783 – 18 November 1874) was an officer of the British Royal Navy who served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and was later the Governor of the Newfoundland Colony.

Henry Trollope

Admiral Sir Henry Trollope, GCB (20 April 1756 – 2 November 1839) was an officer of the British Royal Navy.

Horatio Hornblower

Horatio Hornblower is a fictional Napoleonic Wars–era Royal Navy officer who is the protagonist of a series of novels and stories by C. S. Forester. He was later the subject of films, radio and television programmes, and C. Northcote Parkinson elaborated a definitive biography.The original Hornblower tales began with the 1937 novel The Happy Return (U.S. title Beat to Quarters) with the appearance of a junior Royal Navy captain on independent duty on a secret mission to Central America. Later stories filled out his earlier years, starting with an unpromising beginning as a seasick midshipman. As the Napoleonic Wars progress, he gains promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. After surviving many adventures in a wide variety of locales, he rises to the pinnacle of his profession, promoted to Admiral of the Fleet.

Hornblower and the Atropos

Hornblower and the Atropos is a 1953 historical novel by C.S. Forester.

Horatio Hornblower is posted to HMS Atropos, the smallest vessel in the Royal Navy that merits command by a post-captain, as he salvages treasure from the Mediterranean Sea.

Jack Aubrey

John "Jack" Aubrey, is a fictional character in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. The series portrays his rise from lieutenant to rear-admiral in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The twenty (and one incomplete draft)-book series encompasses Aubrey's adventures and various commands along his course to flying a rear admiral's flag.

Some of his naval battles and adventures are drawn from Royal Navy history. Several of his exploits and reverses, most importantly those in the plots of Master and Commander, The Reverse of the Medal and Blue at the Mizzen, are directly based on the chequered career of Thomas Cochrane. Often in the other 17 novels in the series, Aubrey may witness an action or hear of one that is drawn from history, while the battles or other encounters with ships he captains are fictional.

Besides reaching the peak of naval skills and authority, Aubrey is presented as being interested in mathematics and astronomy, a great lover of music and player of the violin, a hearty singer and is generally accompanied by his friend and shipmate Stephen Maturin on the cello. He is noted for his mangling and mis-splicing of proverbs, sometimes with Maturin's involvement, such as “Never count the bear’s skin before it is hatched” and “There’s a good deal to be said for making hay while the iron is hot.” Aubrey is played by Russell Crowe in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and by David Robb in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the novels .

James King (Royal Navy officer)

Captain James King (1750 – 16 November 1784) was an officer of the Royal Navy. He served under James Cook on his last voyage around the world, specialising in taking important astronomical readings using a sextant. After Cook died he helped lead the ships on the remainder of their course, also completing Cook's account of the voyage. He continued his career in the Navy, reaching the rank of post-captain, commanding several ships and serving in the American War of Independence.

Peter Heywood

Peter Heywood (6 June 1772 – 10 February 1831) was a British naval officer who was on board HMS Bounty during the mutiny of 28 April 1789. He was later captured in Tahiti, tried and condemned to death as a mutineer, but subsequently pardoned. He resumed his naval career and eventually retired with the rank of post-captain, after 29 years of honourable service.

The son of a prominent Isle of Man family with strong naval connections, Heywood joined Bounty under Lieutenant William Bligh at the age of 15. Although unranked, he was granted the privileges of a junior officer. Bounty left England in 1787 on a mission to collect and transport breadfruit from the Pacific, and arrived in Tahiti late in 1788. Relations between Bligh and certain of his officers, notably Fletcher Christian, became strained, and worsened during the five months that Bounty remained in Tahiti.

Shortly after the ship began its homeward voyage, Christian and his discontented followers seized Bligh and took control of the vessel. Bligh and 18 loyalists were set adrift in an open boat; Heywood was among those who remained with Bounty. Later, he and 15 others left the ship and settled in Tahiti, while Bounty sailed on, ending its voyage at Pitcairn Island. Bligh, after an epic open-boat journey, eventually reached England, where he implicated Heywood as one of the mutiny's prime instigators. In 1791, Heywood and his companions were met in Tahiti by the search vessel HMS Pandora and held in irons for transportation to England. Heywood and one other sailor welcomed the Pandora in canoes, relieved to be rescued. However, they were arrested; the captain, Edward Edwards, had them and 12 others fettered and handcuffed in an 11-foot (3.4 m) box built for the purpose on deck. During their subsequent journey, Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Four of Heywood's fellow prisoners were drowned; Heywood survived.

In September 1792, Heywood was court-martialed and with five others was sentenced to hang. However, the court recommended mercy for Heywood, and King George III pardoned him. In a rapid change of fortune, he found himself favoured by senior officers, and after the resumption of his career, received a series of promotions that gave him his first command at the age of 27 and made him a post-captain at 31. He remained in the navy until 1816, building a respectable career as a hydrographer, and then enjoyed a long and peaceful retirement. The extent of Heywood's true guilt in the mutiny has been clouded by contradictory statements and possible false testimony. During his trial powerful family connections worked on his behalf, and he later benefited from the Christian family's generally fruitful efforts to demean Bligh's character and present the mutiny as an understandable reaction to an unbearable tyranny. Contemporary press reports, and more recent commentators, have contrasted Heywood's pardon with the fate of his fellow prisoners who were hanged, all lower-deck sailors without wealth or family influence and who lacked legal counsel.

Post Captain (novel)

Post Captain is the second historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1972. It features the characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin in the early 19th century and is set in the Napoleonic Wars.

During the brief Peace of Amiens, Aubrey and Maturin live in a country house allowing both of them to meet the women they love. The mores of courtship restrict both men as to making a proposal of marriage. Then their lives are turned upside down when Aubrey loses his money due to decisions of the prize court and a dishonest prize-agent. To avoid seizure for debt, they proceed through France to Maturin's property in Spain. When the war begins afresh, Aubrey has a command aboard HMS Polychrest, seeing action while gaining fewer prizes yet succeeding in his military goals. He gains his promotion and is captain of the frigate HMS Lively while its captain is ashore. The emotions of his love life interfere with his ways at sea, showing him sharply different in his decisiveness at sea compared to his clumsiness on land.

The novel was received well at its initial publishing, but received more and better notice after its re-issue in 1990. That much of the story is set on land drew some to consider it O'Brian's homage to Jane Austen, one of his favorite authors. Author Mary Renault gave this novel high praise, while Alison Sulentic commends the novel for the two different ways that Maturin and Aubrey "come to know wisdom" as a result of falling in love.

Post ship

Post ship was a designation used in the Royal Navy during the second half of the 18th century and the Napoleonic Wars to describe a ship of the sixth rate (see rating system of the Royal Navy) that was smaller than a frigate (in practice, carrying fewer than 28 guns), but by virtue of being a rated ship (with at least 20 guns), had to have as its captain a post captain rather than a lieutenant or commander. Thus ships with 20 to 26 guns were post ships, though this situation changed after 1817.Sea officers often referred to the post ships as frigates though technically the Admiralty scrupulously never described them as such. The vessels were frigate-built, with traditional quarterdecks and forecastles (the defining characteristic of post ships, distinguishing them from 20-gun ship-sloops), but, unlike true frigates, they lacked an orlop platform amidships. They had a high center of gravity, which made them slow and unweatherly, but they were seaworthy. In peacetime the Royal Navy frequently used them as substitutes for frigates, especially in distant foreign stations. In wartime their slowness meant they were used mostly as convoy escorts.

Unlike other uses of the term "ship" during this era, "post ship" in itself implies nothing as regards the rig of the vessel; however, all sixth rates were in practice ship-rigged, i.e. were square-rigged on three masts.

For an example of a post ship, see HMS Camilla. She was one of ten Sphinx-class post ships built during the 1770s.

The United States Navy termed ships of this type "third-class frigates."

Samuel Barrington

Admiral Samuel Barrington (1729 – 16 August 1800) was a British admiral.

Samuel was the fourth son of John Shute Barrington, 1st Viscount Barrington of Beckett Hall at Shrivenham in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). He entered the Royal Navy at the age of 11, and by 1747 had been promoted to post captain.

Sir Richard Bickerton, 2nd Baronet

Admiral Sir Richard Hussey Bickerton, 2nd Baronet, KCB, (11 October 1759 – 9 February 1832) was a British naval officer. He was born in Southampton, the son of Vice-admiral Sir Richard Bickerton and first served aboard HMS Medway in June 1774, in the Mediterranean. His first command came in March 1779 when he was given HM Sloop Swallow as a reward for his part in an engagement with a much larger opponent. Bickerton later joined Rodney's squadron in the West Indies where he took part in the capture of Sint Eustatius in 1781. Making post captain on 8 February 1781, he took temporary command of HMS Invincible and fought in her at the Battle of Fort Royal on 29 April 1781.

When Britain entered the French Revolutionary War in 1793, Bickerton joined the Channel Fleet before, in October 1794, being ordered to transport General Sir John Vaughan to the West Indies, to take command of British land forces there. After another spell in home waters, Bickerton was sent to the Mediterranean where he spent much of the war on blockade duty and, after their surrender, oversaw the evacuation of French forces from Alexandria. He remained in the Mediterranean during the short-lived peace and when hostilities renewed was second in command to Lord Nelson there.

Forced ashore by illness in 1805, Bickerton first served as a Lord of the Admiralty and First Naval Lord before finishing his naval career as Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, having attained the rank of full admiral in 1812.


In the rating system of the British Royal Navy used to categorise sailing warships, a sixth-rate was the designation for small warships mounting between 20 and 28 carriage-mounted guns on a single deck, sometimes with smaller guns on the upper works and sometimes without. It thus encompassed ships with up to 30 guns in all. In the first half of the 18th century the main battery guns were 6-pounders, but by mid-century these were supplanted by 9-pounders. 28-gun sixth rates were classed as frigates, those smaller as 'post ships', indicating that they were still commanded by a full ('post') captain, as opposed to sloops of 18 guns and less under commanders.

William Bolton (Royal Navy officer, died 1830)

Captain Sir William Bolton (1777 – 16 December 1830) was a post-captain in the Royal Navy who served under Nelson during the French Revolutionary Wars and was married to Dame Catherine Bolton, Nelson's niece. He also served in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.


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