By Gordon E. Bannerman
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Additional info for Merchants and the Military in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Bristish Army Contracts and Domestic Supply, 1739-1763
173 With insufficient knowledge of how to combat the tropical climate, the type and quality of provisions was problematic. 176 With multiple difficulties in supplying provisions overseas, food quality was extremely variable. Supplying a wide variety of provisions meant contractors used more sub-contractors and agents and more ancillary staff such as coopers and packers. Conditions aboard ship could also deleteriously affect quality. In this respect it is significant that it was rare for quality of provisions to be problematic in Europe.
The ability to manage extensive supply operations was an essential prerequisite for all contractors, whether financier, merchant, or agricultural wholesaler. Diverse military demands encompassed a variety of business interests. For each type of contract, there were a group of men whose experience in relevant business sectors made them particularly well-equipped to undertake contracts. This close approximation between business experience and contractual services indicates the Treasury’s success in identifying men whose abilities could be used for state purposes.
Although accountable to government in these terms, contractors did not fully control contract performance. Government had a role to play in providing necessary infrastructure such as storehouses and convoys. Agents and sub-contractors were vitally important and their shortcomings reflected badly on contractors who were held ultimately responsible. 149 In 1757, a bad harvest and high prices led the government to permit contractors to export foreign corn and Irish beef. 150 A relaxation in terms was acceptable when the benefits of doing so were readily apparent.