'the Lesser of Two Weevils': British Victual Organization During the Long Eighteenth Century

Douglas Allen (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract: The Victualling Board of the British Navy ran between 1683--1832. Despite successfully meeting the food demands of the time it has often come under attack for corruption, incompetence, and weevils. Here, recent historical work is examined with an economic lens to reveal an organization that actually efficiently dealt with severe measurement costs, and which effectively changed with the emergence of the modern world. The aspects of the Victualling Board that seem odd and inefficient today --- excessive inventories, minimal accounting, in-house production, mutual surveillance, excessive punishments --- were ingenious second-best solutions to pre-modern measurement problems.