Portrait of George Marsh Commissioner of the Navy 1722-1800. Possibly painted by the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds or by Lemual Francis Abbott. Click for larger image.



George Marsh
Commissioner of the Navy


Portrait of George Marsh Commissioner of the Navy 1722-1800, Painted by the artist Johann Gerhard Huck. Click for larger image.

Born: 27 January and christened 30 January 1722 in St Mary's Church, Portsea, Hampshire.  Died 27 October 1800.
Son of: George Marsh (1683-17??) and Elizabeth Marsh (nee Milbourne, 1687-17??).
Brother of:
1. Francis Marsh (1708-17??), Army Officer, died unmarried.
2. Milbourne Marsh (1709-1779), who married ?
3. Mary Duval (nee Marsh, 1712-1800) who married Mr Duval.
4. George Marsh (1714-171?) who died an infant.
5. Daniel Marsh (1716-17??) Naval Officer or a Shipwright who possibly died in 1740 in an accident at work.
6. John Marsh (1718-17??).
7. Isaac Marsh (1720-17??), Naval Officer.
8. Eliza Marsh (1724-17??) who died unmarried.
George married Ann Long (1720-1784), 22 August, 1750, St Stephen & St Benet, Sherhog, London (or 19 March 1749 at St Stephens, Walbrook, near the Mansion House).  Ann was the daughter of William Long (16??-1723) and Mary Long (nee Mead).
George had issue:
1. George Marsh, Proctor in Doctor's Commons (1749-1790).
2. William Marsh (1755-1846) who married first Amelia Cuthbert (1765?-1793), second  Frances Graham (1770-1805), third Elizabeth Tresilian  (1769?-1838).
3. Anne Marsh (18 February 1760 - 11 August 1777).
4. Samuel Mead Marsh (16 June 1751 - 10 July 1751).

George Marsh: An Overview

We know of George from the following sources:
1. Diary of George Marsh.  A very extensive account of his family life, his business dealings and his work in the Navy.
2. George Marsh's journal of a visit to Hamburg in 1776 to procure extra ships for the Navy in preparation for the war with America.
3. A record in the National Portrait Gallery, London, recording two portraits of him. Also a portrait by Johann Gerhard Huck.
4. A note in the book "Navy Board Officials, 1660-1832" compiled by JM Collinge, 1978.  See below.
5. Books about Adm Horatio Nelson sometimes make reference to George Marsh (the Commissioner) and his son William Marsh (the Banker).
6. A note in the book "Augustus Hervey's Journal" by David Erskine, 1953, page 298.  Augustus Hervey appointed George Marsh as his prize agent on 10 March 1759.
7. "History of the Ancient Family of Marsh" by Joseph J. Green, Archivist and Genealogist, 1903, revised to date by Wm. Ernest Marsh, of Marston, Bromley, Kent, 1912.
8. Memorials inside the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Gillingham, Kent.  See below.
9. Various notes in the Greenwich Museum library (I have not seen these yet).
10. Various notes in the British Library, Shee Papers (I have not seen these yet).
11. Various notes in the Public Record Office at Kew.
12. His Scrapbook in the Wellcome Library of Medicine in London.  This mentions a lot about supplying bread to the Navy.  Also a bit about the Greenwich Hospital and a short letter from Adm Sir George Walton.  The majority of the notes in this scrap book are morals and thoughts on life.
13. A record of discharges given by the will of John Baynard who died around 1792  George Marsh executor.
14. Various other letters in the Heath-Caldwell Family Archive.
15. Family letters from the Betty Harrison archive.
16. Captivity, Marriage and Influence: the entangled fortunes of the Marsh and Towry families , 1755-1808, by Roger Knight.
17. 'Tars, The Men Who Made Britain Rule the Waves' by Tim Clayton, published 2007.

George Marsh started from humble beginnings, worked diligently all his life and ended up a Commissioner of the Navy.  In the 1700s the Royal Navy made great strides and by the early 1800s had established itself internationally as the undisputed ruler of the waves.  For those intelligent individuals involved in making all this happen it was a time when fame and fortune could come very rapidly.  George Marsh was not one of the great military leaders who achieved a high public profile.  He was an administrator who steadily helped to make the wheels of the great navy machine turn faster and more efficiently.

We know a lot about George Marsh because in his later years he wrote a diary of his life , the content of which he notes as being intended for the benefit of his children and descendents.  His diary is well written and in addition to a lot of family items he also documents some of his dealings at the Navy Office.

His diary starts with a series of short pieces about his ancestors and various relatives; his grandfathers Francis Marsh and John Milbourne, his cousin Milbourne Warren, his nephew John Milbourne Marsh and his niece Elizabeth Crisp .  He then goes on to cover his own life.

George starts his story as a boy in 1735 when he was on his father's ship the Nowark, flagship of Sir George Walton .  Sir George appears to have taken quite a shine to this young 12 year old and takes him on many of his visits in the Portsmouth area.

In 1737 George Marsh was made an apprentice to Mr Charles Middleton, a Petty Officer in Chatham Dockyard.  George spent 6 years learning all about the construction and maintenance of large navy ships.

In 1745 George managed to make a good step up the ladder by securing a job as a clerk with Commissioner Whorwood at Deptford.  This was very quickly followed by a job with Mr Clevland Clerk of the Acts of the Navy.  George was employed in collecting and making a calculation of the expense of Queen Ann's War with Spain.  He completed this in four months to everyone's satisfaction and as a result was then made an 'Extra Clerk' to Captain Richard Haddock, Comptroller of the Navy, in his office for bills and accounts. 

Just as George was starting to meet all the right people there was a general downturn.  His job as a clerk came to an end but after some perseverance he managed to get a job measuring and scaling timber being bought by the navy for use in shipbuilding.  He did this for a few years until 1750 when he again managed to get a job as a Clerk, this time in the office for bills and accounts working for Savage Mostyn the Comptroller of the Navy.

Once again George was meeting all the right people and he was being recognised as someone who could get things done.  Admiral Matthews had recommended him to Sir Arthur Scott, a Commissioner of the Navy, and he in turn had recommended him to John Perceval, Earl of Egmont.  George managed to sort out a rather complicated business in getting payments made to naval widows who resided in the Earl of Egmont's constituency.  The Earl of Egmont was very grateful and their paths were to cross some years later.

Around this time, in parallel with this public job, George had also gone into business supplying goods and services to the navy.  This business had ups and downs with various partners, initially with Pentecost Barker and then later with Henry Creed and eventually with George's son William Marsh.  He also had as a partner Edward Ommaney but this particular partner did not work out very satisfactorily.  In general the business progressed and eventually made George a very rich man. 

In 1757 Capt James Gilchrist appointed George as Agent to arrange the selling of prizes (ships which Capt Gilchrist had taken from the enemy).  More contracts for handing prize ships were to follow and eventually George Marsh's company was handling such a large amount of money that it became a bank in its own right.

In 1763 the Earl of Egmont was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and shortly after he appointed George Marsh as a Commissioner for Victualling and in 1772 George became a full Commissioner of the Navy. 

For the next 28 years, right up until he death in 1800 at age 78, George Marsh was at the top of his profession meeting the King and the Prime Minister and being in daily contact with all of the top men in the Navy.  For more details see his diary.

George also had what would appear to have been a reasonably happy family life.  He married Ann Long in 1750 and the marriage lasted 34 years until her death in 1784.  They had four children.  Two died young.  The eldest George lived a rather unwholesome life and died aged about 41.  The other child William Marsh had a remarkably privileged life and appears to have certainly made the most of the family fortune that his father had built up for him.

George died in 1800 and is buried in the family Church of St Mary Magdalene, Gillingham, Kent.  In addition to a memorial tablet inside the church there is also a stained glass window located on the north side of the church. 

The stone memorial reads as follows:
To the memory of George Marsh Esqr.  One of the Principle Officers and Commissioners of His Majesty's Navy, who died the 27th day of October 1800, Aged 78 Years.  He served in various Naval Departments upwards of 64 Years with indefatigable Attention and Fidelity.  Was appointed in 1763, one of the Commissioners for Victualling His Majesty's Navy, and by the King's Command, "In Consequence of the Recommendation to his Majesty by the Earl of Egmont upon his Lordship's retiring the office, and signified to him by the Earl of Sandwich, when First Lord of the Admiralty, in October 1772, a Commissioner of the Navy.

The inscription on the window reads:

To the Glory of God and the memory of George Marsh 

Commissioner HMS Navy born 1722 and of his descendants

Stained glass window located on the north side of St Mary Magdalene, Gillingham, Kent. Dedicated to George Marsh Commissioner of the Navy  


The book 'Navy Board Officials, 1660-1832' compiled by JM Collinge in 1978 records the following:
Marsh, George  
Clerk (Bills and Accounts) pd. from 10 Oct 1745 (Adm. 7/812 f. 10).  
Left office 25 June 1746 on app. as Clerk to Commissioner for Deptford and Woolwich Yards (ibid. ff. 10, 29).
Reapp. 12 Dec 1750 (ibid. f. 10).  
Clerk (Seaman's Wages) 1 May 1751 - 31 Oct. 1763 (ibid. f. 11).  
Left office 31 Oct. 1763 on app. as Commissioner of Victualling (Adm. 7/814 f. 13; C66/3693). 
Controller of Victualling Accounts 28 Oct 1772 - 16 July 1773 (C 66/3738). 
Clerk of Acts 16 July 1773 - 3 Aug. 1796 (C 66/3742).  
Commissioner 3 Aug. 1796 - 27 Oct. 1800 (C 6/3930).  
D. 27 October 1800 (Gent. Mag. (1800), lxx (2), 1110).

Bookplate of George Marsh (1722-1800) Commissioner of the Navy. Click for large image. 
Bookplate of George Marsh

   Portrait by Benjamin Wilson of George Marsh 1722-1800 Commissioner of the Navy 
George Marsh
By Benjamin Wilson

In the archive of the National Portrait Gallery there is a record of two large portraits of George Marsh, which came up for auction in the 1980s.  One portrait is by Lemuel Francis Abbott (c1760-1802) and the record states that it was sold in 1986 together with Marsh's official seal of the Navy office.  The other portrait is by Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788) and was sold in 1984.  Both record his dates as 1722-1800.  Where are these portraits now?


If you have any information to add to what is listed please contact me on jj@jjhc.info
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