Fleet. 1. The name of a brook flowing into the Thames on the N. bank, now a covered sewer, but formerly an open watercourse. Its name has been fancifully derived from the supposed quickness of its current; but, seeing that vliet is a Flemish word meaning ditch or watercourse, and that there are many vliets in the neighbourhood of Antwerp, it seems likely that the Fleet has exactly the meaning of ditch. The tautology of "Fleet Ditch" is akin to that of "Axholme Island," which means "Island island island." The Fleet Prison has played a great part in fiction. There was a prison here on the east side of Farringdon Street in the 12th century. It was burnt down by the Gordon rioters in 1780, and afterwards rebuilt, and finally abolished in 1845. The Fleet marriages of the 17th and 18th centuries became so great a trouble that they were abolished by Act of Parliament in 1754. The noted old law book, Fleta, is said to have been Written by one confined in the Fleet Prison.
2. A number of warships, operating together or in unison, under a single commander-in-chief A fleet is a larger body than a squadron, and includes, as a minimum, six battleships, with cruisers, etc., in proportion. Fleets are divided into divisions and also into subdivisions, each of which may have a flag-officer in command. The ancient division of a fleet was into three squadrons, the red, the white, and the blue, the squadrons being split up into divisions. "Fleet," as a prefix indicative of rank, is applied in the British navy to those engineers immediately above staff-engineers; to those surgeons immediately above staff-surgeons; and to those paymasters immediately above staffpaymasters. A "master of the fleet" is an officer occasionally appointed to superintend the general navigation, anchoring, or weighing of a large fleet. A "captain of the fleet," or "first captain," is an officer, either rear-admiral or captain, occasionally appointed to act as chief of staff to a commanderin-chief. To "fleet" a tackle is to overhaul it so as to bring into action such mechanical force as may be intended to be employed.