Charles Saunders was born in 1715 and entered the Royal Navy in 1727. He seems to have been an excellent sailor as his record suggests a successful and interesting - and I suspect lucrative - career in the Navy. When he was placed on half pay in 1749 he retained his naval connections but found time to enter politics by becoming a Member of Parliament for Hendon.
Admiral Charles Saunders
In 1754 he was appointed treasurer of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich - a particularly lucrative sinecure - and with the outbreak of the Seven Years War a couple of years later he was promoted to rear-admiral of the blue and ordered to Gibraltar as second in command of the Mediterranean fleet under Edward Hawke.
A cursory reading of his biography suggests that Saunders’s interventions in so far as the history of Gibraltar is concerned were few and far between in the sense that he spent most of his time at sea either chasing or fighting the enemy. Nevertheless the records do show that he spent at least some of his time chairing or paying close attention to the shenanigans of the Vice-Admiralty Court that had been set up in 1739 to deal with maritime affairs. It was an institution that persisted for many decades.
The Rock in the 1760s (Possibly by Warren )
Ships and cargoes captured by British cruisers - so called naval prizes - were put up for auction by the Court. The vessels were then quickly fitted out as privateers quickly setting sail under the protection of letters of marque issued by the Governor. According to Alan Andrews:
. . . they conducted an indiscriminate warfare on neutral and enemy commerce about which the most charitable judgement would be that it did no immediate harm to Britain. (see LINK)
On the whole, the underlying suggestion in the literature is that whatever corrupt practices may have resulted from these sales the main culprits were locals of non-British origins - despite the fact that over the years a majority of privateer vessels sailing out of Gibraltar harbour were actually owned by people with very British surnames.
However a lengthy and detailed power of attorney dated 1760 and signed by Charles Saunders in his capacity as treasurer of the Royal Hospital suggests that it wasn’t just the civilians - British named or otherwise - who took good advantage of the possibility of making some easy money.
The document granted a certain Samuel More to act on Saunders’ behalf. Curiously More is identified as a “gentleman belonging to his Majesty’s ship Neptune” which was a vessel often used by the rear-admiral during his many cruises. Another sailor? A friend perhaps?
Whoever he was it seems odd that the man who as the Royal Navy’s second in command must in effect have been the final judge and jury of the Vice-Admiralty Court should have found it necessary to appoint somebody to buy - and necessarily sell at a profit - whatever prizes he saw fit that were auctioned with the authority of the court. It is also difficult not to take with a huge pinch of salt Saunders’ excuse that the proceeds were to go to the Royal Hospital.
The Royal Hospital at Greenwich (1699)
The start of the peace negotiations at the end of 1762 resulted in Saunders being recalled from Gibraltar and made Vice-Admiral of the white. He hardly seems to have mentioned Gibraltar during his stay there other than to criticize - as Nelson would do a few decades later - the perennial problem of a lack of sufficient drinking water:
I think proper to inform your Lordship that whenever the transports arrive in Gibraltar they can’t recruit their water there, there being often so great a scarcity that I am obliged to send some of the ships of the squadron to Tetuan which being a dangerous coast is a precarious dependence.
On the other hand perhaps he may have missed no longer being in charge of the Admiralty Court with its huge potential for making easy money. In fact by the early 19th century things had apparently changed for the worse.
The Admiralty Court at Gibraltar appears to me to be very oddly constituted, and certainly wants regulation. Anybody may be judge there; for legal knowledge does not seem to be a necessary qualification. One day, a merchant is trying causes in which he himself is a party; the next day, a military officer is discussing and explaining knotty points of law, and deciding important questions of property, which he is not qualified to do, either by the course of his studies or the habits of his life . . . . . '(Admiral Lord Collingwood writing to Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Governor of Gibraltar)