AT LEAST THAT WAS THE PREDICAMENT FOR THE BRITISH MERCANTILE FLEET AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
This letter was written when Ganges, ashore and afloat, at Falmouth or at Shotley Point plus other boys' naval training ships, were turning out boys for the Fleet with an insatiable appetite for well trained youngsters. The letter tells us that between 1786 and 1905 [the date of the letter] the Marine Society [the oldest sea training institution in the world] whose job it was to train boys for sea service, supplied the Royal Navy with 33,562 boys. One particular ship, the Arethusa, supplied many to HMS Ganges and continued to do so certainly [to my knowledge] up to the mid 1950's and probably beyond: she is mentioned in the letter.
The letter is not only of great interest to a Maritime Nation, but also relevant to all British seafarers manning British ships.
An article copied from the TIMES Newspaper dated the 14th October 1905
How To Make British Sailors. TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES. Sir, I am directed by the committee of this society to request that you will be so good as to enable them, before the correspondence closes, to place their views on this subject before the public. The Marine Society, founded in 1756, of which his Majesty the King is patron, has for its main object the training of boys for a sea life. It is the oldest sea training institution in the world, and since the year 1786 has maintained a training-ship on the Thames, the present vessel being the Warspite, off Greenhithe. From the foundation of the society to the present time 64,699 boys have been drafted to sea; of this large number 33,562 entered the Royal Navy, 3,760 the Indian Navy, and 27,377 the mercantile marine. Candidates for admission to the Warspite must be British subjects of good character and good physique, whose parents are unable to send their sons to sea at their own expense. Age and height standards are laid down, and varied to meet the requirements of the sea services. Every boy admitted must undertake to go to sea at the expiration of his training, and in practice, with the exception of a very few who are generally discharged for medical reasons, every boy trained enters upon a sea life. The training on board is for 12 months, except in the cases of boys found eligible to join the Royal Wavy, who may be drafted to that service at any time after being three months on board. The society's income is chiefly derived from invested funds, supplemented by voluntary contributions. This income is sufficient to maintain and train about 200 boys per annum, and boys to this number have been annually drafted to sea for many years past. The ship could, however, accommodate 500 boys, and merely through lack of public support the vacant space on board remains unfilled. Objections have been raised by some of your correspondents to the eleemosynary character of existing ships; but, whilst their training remains so excellent, it is difficult to discover the ground of complaint. It is indeed doubtful whether rate-supported institutions would be more economically or efficiently managed. In the correspondence that has taken place in your columns the sovereign specific put forward, as has already been pointed out, for remedying the dearth of British sailors in the mercantile marine is the establishment of additional training-ships or homes for boys desirous of going to sea. It is on this point that my committee especially desire to express an opinion. There is no question that there are more eligible recruits for a sea life at the present time than the existing training-ships for boys of good character can cope with, and superficially it would appear that further ships are needed for their accommodation. However, when the disposal of the boys after training is considered, it will be found that, though the supply is ample, the demand is wanting. The training-ships have no power to compel ship owners to take their boys, and consequently the supply should to some extent be regulated by the demand, or the surplus boys trained must be discharged to the shore. At the present time there is but a limited demand by the ship owner for training-ship boys. Many vessels in the mercantile marine carry no boys, and the remainder carry one or two at most, and in some ships the character of the work which the boys have to do is such that no preliminary training is required. It may possibly be argued that, because there is no great demand by the ship owner for training-ship boys, the existing vessels are not doing the right work and turning out the required material; but this is not the case. As has been already stated, the Warspite supplies well-trained boys, and to those companies who take boys, such as the Union-Castle Line, the Orient-Pacific, Messrs. Bullard and King, the Canadian-Pacific Railway Company to mention only a few they have given every satisfaction. It is not, therefore, the quality of the material supplied which is at fault, but simply the deficient demand. The remedy for the lack of demand must either be a return to old regulations, which compelled every British ship to carry a certain number of British youths, or the Government must in some way make it worth the while of the ship owner not only to carry boys, but to pay such care and attention to their well-being as will ensure their remaining at sea. There is yet another reason why additional training- ships for boys of good character are not required. At the present time we have the Warspite and Arethusa at Greernhithe, and the Indefatigable at Liverpool, all turning out thoroughly desirable boys. For lack of sufficient financial support each of these ships is short of her full complement of boys. So long as these vessels remain with vacancies on board it is surely unnecessary to bring new ships or homes into being. It is due to public ignorance of the work of these vessels and the vacancies on board that there is this clamour for additional training-ships. My committee are of opinion that the three following axioms are worthy of consideration:- 1. That, before additional ships or homes are established at the public expense for the training of boys for the sea, the accommodation already available on board the Warspite and similar ships should be fully utilized. 2. That, in any case, before such additional ships are established, it should be clearly ascertained that the managers would be able to ensure continuity of employment as sailors for all such boys as may be trained on board such ships. 3. That there never will be such continuity of employment available for as many boys as it would be desirable in the interests of the Empire to train for the sea until all ship owners are induced by remuneration or compulsion to employ boys on board their ships. When these desirable conditions have been brought about the Marine Society will be amongst the first to welcome additional training-ships to increase the number of British seamen in the mercantile marine. I am, Sir, your obedient servant. HENRY T. A. BOSANQUET. Lieut. R.N. (Retd] Secretary, Marine Society. Marine Society's office, Warspite Training-Ship, Clark's- place, Bishopsgate-street within, E.C.,