Elder Brethren as Nautical Assessors at the Admiralty
Trinity House Board Minute:
“An Order from the Court of Admiralty for two Brothers to attend next Tuesday morning, and Captain John Smith and Captain John Frost appointed.”
One of the Brethren’s duties includes sitting, when summoned, to assist the Judge of the Admiralty Court as nautical assessors on the bench of that court when questions of seamanship, navigation and nautical knowledge arise, and when the High Court sits as a prize court. The two Brethren best acquainted with the issues raised by the case in question attend the Judge as Assessors.
The first reported case of assessors assisting the High Court of Admiralty is in 1541, and the Charter of James II prescribes that the Master, Wardens and Assistants, and their Deputies, being always at the king’s call, are exempted from all manner of land service except Admiralty Sessions, “which they and every one of them shall be tied and bound to attend, upon their Perils, being lawfully summoned.”
A further note on this service, as detailed in Deputy Master Captain Joseph Cotton’s Memoir on the Origin and Incorporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond (1818) (Available as a PDF at Google Books):
“The Master, Wardens, and Assistants, and their Deputies, being always at the King’s call, are therefore, with their servants and apprentices, being maritime or seafaring men, exempted from all manner of land service and contributions thereto, and from all assizes, juries, inquests, &c., except on Admiralty Sessions, which they are bound to attend (upon their peril) being lawfully summoned, which exemptions are nevertheless revocable by an order of council, the Lord High Admiral being present. Sea causes were formerly tried by the Brethren, instead of at the Common Pleas, as were all maritime causes, referred by the Admiralty, which were to be reported to that Board, for judgment, This is asserted to have been the case by Stowe in 1598.”
“Independent of the permanent employment, as has been described, the casual duties of the Brethren are many. The charter prescribes their attendance on all maritime causes, when the Judge of the Admiralty may think it necessary to require it; hence there are constant applications, when that court sits, for two of the Brethren to attend the Judge, as Assessors; and selection is made from the Brethren of those who are best acquainted with that part of the seacoast that the litigation refers to; and this particular, the present most intelligent Judge, Sir William Scott, has expressly directed the summons to notice.”