CAPTAIN (from the French capi taine ; in Italian, capitano : both words are from the Latin caput, a head), in the naval service, is an officer who has the command of a ship of war, and, in the army, is one who commands a troop of cavalry or a company of infantry.
In military affairs the title of captain seems to have been originally applied, both in France and England, like that of General at present, to officers who were placed at the head of armies or of their principal divisions, or to the go vernors of fortified places. Pere Daniel relates that it was at one time given to every military man of noble birth ; and adds that, in the sense in which it is at present used, it originated when the French kings gave commission to certain nobles to raise companies of men, in proof of which he quotes an ordonnance of Charles V. This must have been be fore 1380, in which year that king died. In the English service the denomination of captain, in the same sense, appears to have been introduced about the reign of Henry VII., when it was borne by the officers commanding the yeomen of the guard, and the band of gentlemen pen sioners. (Grose's Military Antiquities, vol. i.) The established price of a captain's commission is, in the Life Guards, 35001.; in the Dragoons, 3225l.; in the Foot Guards, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, 48001.; in the infantry of the line, 18001.; and no officer can be pro moted to the rank of captain until he has been two years an effective subaltern. The full pay of a captain in the Life and Foot Guards is 158. per day; in the Dra goons 145. 7d.; and in the Infantry of the Line is 118. 7d. per day.
The duty of a captain is one of consi derable imports "e, since that officer is responsible for the efficiency of his com pany in every qualification by which it is rendered fit for service ; he has to attend all parades; to see that the cloth ing, arms, &c. of the men are in good order, and that their pay and allowances are duly supplied. When the army is encamped, one captain of each regiment is appointed as captain for the day; his duty is to superintend the camp of his regiment, to attend the parading of the regimental guards, to visit the hospital, to cause the roll to be called frequently and at uncertain hours, and to report everything extraordinary to the com manding officer.
A high degree of responsibility rests upon the commander of a ship of war, since to him is committed the care of a numerous crew, with whom he has to encounter the dangers of the ocean and the chances of battle. And as the floating fortress with its costly artillery and stores, when trans ferred to the enemy, increases by so much his naval strength, it is evident that nothing but utter inability to prevent him from getting possession can justify the commander in surrendering. In the old French service the captain was prohibited from abandoning his ship under pain of death ; and in action he was bound under the same penalty to defend it to the last extremity : he was even to blow it np rather than suffer it to fall into the enemy's power.
The pay of a captain in the navy varies with the rate of the ship, from 611. 7s. per month for a first-rate, to 261. 17s. for a sixth-rate. Commanders of sloops have 231.. and a captain of marines 141. 14s. per month.
From the book of general regulations and orders it appears that lieutenants of his majesty's ships rank with captains of the army. Commanders (by courtesy entitled captains) rank with majors. Cap tains (formerly designated post-captains) with lieutenant-colonels ; but after three years from the dates of their commissions they rank with full colonels.
The rank of post-captain was that at which when the commander of a ship war had arrived, his subsequent promo tion to a flag took place only in conse quence of seniority, as colonels of the army obtain promotion to the rank of general officers. Such captain was then said to be posted; but this title does not now exist.
Several petty-officers in a ship bear the titles of captains. Thus there is a captain of the forecastle, a captain of the hold, captains of the main and fore tops, of the mast, and of the afterguard.