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A NEW REQUIREMENT FOR BOYS

The answer to that question is either very simple, or very complicated, and some might even say obvious. Let me assure you that it is neither - it is PROFOUNDLY COMPLICATED ! However, before we begin the story you should know that in 1859, there was a heated debate in the House of Commons about the Defence of the Realm recorded in Hansards on the 9th June Vol 154 cc193-294.  One of the speakers was Sir James Graham and this is part of what he said

"..........Public necessity may have justified those measures. I am not prepared to deny that they wore necessary; but I say this, that by adopting those measures Her Majesty's Government have exposed themselves to a most awkward alternative. They cither knew there was an imminent danger of war, or they were ignorant of it, and had been grossly deceived. I do not think they would attempt to deceive us; but being deceived themselves, and having recklessly dissolved Parliament, they were involved in a great constitutional difficulty, and dealt with the army and navy in a manner I will shortly describe. First, with regard to the navy; they have issued a royal proclamation in which they offer a large bounty—£10 to able seamen, £5 to ordinary seamen, and £3 to landsmen. Now, I deny that any offer of a bounty was necessary in the cases of the ordinary seamen or landsmen; and with respect to able seamen Her Majesty's Government have forestalled the decision of this House upon a question of the gravest and most difficult character. The hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark has stated that the number of able seamen likely to be obtained by the bounty is small; but, small or great, the offer of the bounty involves an immense principle. What will be the effect of this bounty offered to novices on the 40,000 experienced men now serving in your fleet? "

Later, a vote was taken stopping the then system of recruiting NOVICES by paying a bounty, and although it would take longer to train them, suitable boy's would be recruited in lieu.

 I have written many web pages about the navy from the mid-Victorian period {1868} onwards, particularly about ratings, their recruitment and their training, and before we can answer this question, we need to be sure that we know the reasons for having boys in the Royal Navy in the first place: or is it second place or even third place, because boys' in the navy go back into antiquity.

In the period immediately following the Crimean War [1853-1856] and the run down of the Fleet to a peacetime navy, all subsequent recruitment for ratings was exercised through the many pan-country Coastguard Stations which were largely manned by men who had done their bit in the Royal Navy and as a reward now passed their days with an income, manning these coastal observation points.   Being an island [or group of islands] with a few thousand miles of coastline, there were literally many hundreds of these Coastguard Stations in every part of the country.  Some of these men were merchant seamen, and their numbers, as naval reservist, were the  first call 'pool' used by the Admiralty when trouble loomed. Everything would be fine for the Admiralty as long as we had those men available, plus of course an operational fleet with its associated manpower!

If nothing else, the Victorian period is best known for the Industrial Revolution, which saw Great Britain emerge as the power-house of the world.  As the revolution gathered pace, more and more British merchant ships were required to take our manufactured goods to every port on every continent, and with it came an expansion of the navy to protect these ships and to ensure freedom of the seas for trading. This presented the obvious problem for the Admiralty.  Firstly there were fewer merchant seamen available for the reserve, and secondly with the increased numbers of protecting warships, we needed more 'active' seamen.   Now and for all future times with an unsure reserve, the navy had to have a guaranteed 'pool' of men over which it had to have full control, both in the recruitment and the deployment.

The obvious and easy answer was of course to recruit more men, and many of course would see it as an attractive alternative to the drab, hard and weary life of the ordinary Victorian. However, many of these men were set in their ways, and didn't take too kindly to harsh discipline, even though royal sailors were known to have a fully belly and wore warm clothing.  But, why join the navy when doing a very similar job [i.e., away from home and living on the sea] one could join the ever expanding mercantile fleet and on much better pay terms and conditions.  The navy found themselves with competition they had never envisaged.  Men were required everywhere, on the land, in factories, at sea, digging canals for internal water transportation, building railways and bridges etc etc, and despite the hard work required of these groups, they were better options than was the navy and its well known Dickensian ways. Moreover, and of much greater importance to the Admiralty and to Parliament, Britain's success as the greatest trading nation on earth was not without its problems in another area.  There were just not enough British seamen available to man the mercantile marine and therefore foreign men had to be co-opted. By the third quarter of the 19th century, nearly 20% of British ships had foreign crew members. The expedient of recruiting foreign sailors to make up the short fall in numbers was very soon abused by greedy British ship owners, who rapidly saw that they could save more money by employing foreigners on much lower pay scales, and inevitably, British seamen lost their jobs as more and more foreigners were employed. It is also a fact that the introduction of steam into the merchant navy required many fewer able seamen and whilst early steam ships also carried sail [just in case !] the chances of a steam propulsion unit failing grew less and less and with it came a corresponding reduction in the requirement for able seaman.  The same was not true of the navy.  The new navy steam ships also kept their sail but when not required to go aloft, the able seaman performed other necessary duties and so were never reduced to create smaller ships companies. This exacerbated the problems of the navy in getting suitably qualified British merchant navy able seamen.  Now since the naval reserve came from these merchant mariners in times of trouble, it was obvious that the reserve would get smaller and smaller for no foreigner could serve in Her Majesty's Royal Navy. At the same time as this situation was 'ruffling the feathers' of politicians and the Admiralty, the subject of boys at sea was contentious.  There were many establishments training boys for the merchant marine but the problem was the ship owners didn't want them in their ships unless their parents or their training ship owner paid a hefty sum of money to buy a place for them. British training for mariners was well known for its high standards, and these boys were well equipped to start doing the menial jobs for poor pay on the understanding that through further onboard training and experience they could climb the ladder and eventually become mates and masters. Once trained and being British, these boys were now recruits for the naval reserve.  Had the miserly ships owners taken the boys for further training at no premium, all situations would have been eventually resolved, requiring fewer foreign seamen.  When the navy did start recruiting boys many of the recruits came from merchant marine training ships and the navy were not displeased.

So, still needing the numbers of sailors, hitherto men, the next step were young boys.

Next page is THIRTEEN

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