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Midshipmen and Quarterdeck Boys in the British Navy, 1771-1831

Midshipmen and Quarterdeck Boys in the British Navy, 1771-1831

S. A. Cavell
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81jq3
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  • Book Info
    Midshipmen and Quarterdeck Boys in the British Navy, 1771-1831
    Book Description:

    Officer recruits - "young gentlemen" - entered the Royal Navy with dreams of fame, fortune and glory, but many found promotion difficult, with a large number unable to progress beyond lieutenant. Recent scholarship has argued that during the wars of 1793-1815 there was greater social diversity among naval officers, with promotion increasingly related to professional competence. This book, based on extensive original research, examines the social background of around 4,000 "young gentlemen" a term which includes midshipmen and various other categories, including captains' servants, volunteers and masters' mates. It concludes that in fact high birth became an increasingly important factor in the selection of officer candidates, and that as the Admiralty grip on the appointment and management of officer aspirants increased, especially after 1815, aristocratic presence in the ranks of young officers increased significantly as a result of deliberate Admiralty policy. The book also discusses the assertion that the increase in elite sons led to a dramatic increase in cases of indiscipline and insubordination, concluding that although there was a marked increase in courts martial for insubordination during and after the French Wars there is no evidence that such cases related more to the elites than to young aspirants in general". The book includes many case study examples of midshipmen and other "young gentlemen", illustrating what life was like for them and how they themselves viewed their situation. S.A. CAVELL is a graduate of the Queensland University of Technology and Louisiana State University and completed her doctorate at the University of Exeter.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-959-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    So reads the letter from five-year-old Charles Manners, the second son of Lord Granby, to the victor of the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. His words convey all the excitement of a boy’s view of naval life – the action, the adventure, and of course the glory. Absent, however, is any sense of the dangers or hardships that went hand-in-hand with these attractions, or any comprehension of the mental and physical demands associated with becoming a sea officer in the Royal Navy of the eighteenth century. As it turned out, young Charles did not embark on a career at sea...

  7. 1 Young Gentlemen Defined
    (pp. 7-36)

    The unofficial, yet commonly used, naval term ‘young gentleman’ referred to a commissioned officer-in-training. The appellation encompassed a variety of ratings¹ including the entry-level positions of captain’s servant (before 1794) and 1st-class volunteer (after 1794), as well as the ratings of midshipman and master’s mate, which often, but not always, denoted more experienced trainees. It was also common for a young gentleman to appear on a ship’s muster book² in other ratings such as ‘able seaman’, ‘ordinary seaman’, or any petty officer designation. Under the mantle of officers-in-training, the system of rating was fluid and, to a large extent, meaningless....

  8. 2 A Social Survey: The Social Backgrounds of Young Gentlemen
    (pp. 37-48)

    In order to determine the relative merits of contemporary observations and modern theories on the social development of the officer corps, a survey was designed to identify and quantify the social backgrounds of young gentlemen. This information allowed a better understanding of the effects of various naval and civilian pressures on patronage networks, and their effects on the social makeup of the corps of officer aspirants. The data also enabled contemporary and modern theories to be tested on issues including: the perceived narrowing of opportunities for entry-level officers between 1793 and 1815; the rising importance of social and political influence...

  9. 3 Eighteenth-Century Selection, 1771–1800
    (pp. 49-92)

    The most striking trend shown in the data for entry-level recruitment during the last decades of the eighteenth century was the dominance of naval influence among quarterdeck boys, which, by 1791, rose to include more than 60 per cent of the traceable sample. Over the same time frame, gentry and peerage influence remained comparatively low, although the 1791 peak in the importance of naval connections appeared to cause a simultaneous drop in peerage influence. Notable too in 1781 was the spike in the ‘all other’ category, which consisted of boys supported by a combination of professional and trade/merchant influences. This...

  10. 4 Eighteenth-Century Crime and Punishment, 1760–1800
    (pp. 93-112)

    The previous chapters discussed the importance of both naval and civil factors as they influenced the selection and appointment of young gentlemen in the last decades of the eighteenth century. In the broadest terms, the data showed a decline in the relative importance of connections to the peerage and an increase in the importance of naval connections. These developments ran concurrent with changing civil attitudes towards the qualities that defined gentility, which in turn affected the criteria set by recruiting captains in the selection of officer candidates; the ways in which the professions were perceived among different social orders, and...

  11. 5 Nineteenth-Century Selection, 1801–1815
    (pp. 113-158)

    The new century saw significant changes in the social ‘quality’ of officer aspirants. Most striking in the 1801 data was the sharp decline in the relative importance of naval influence and the general rise in the importance of elite social influence within both groups of young gentlemen. Among quarterdeck boys, naval influence fell from 64 per cent of those with traceable backgrounds in 1791 to 38 per cent in 1801. Proportional to this decline was the increase in the appearance of gentry connections, which jumped from 18 per cent in 1791 to 34 per cent of traceable quarterdeck boys in...

  12. 6 Nineteenth-Century Selection, 1815–1831
    (pp. 159-193)

    The sample years after 1815 saw significant changes in the relative importance of social and naval interest as they acted on the lives of young gentlemen. Most importantly among quarterdeck boys was the reversal in 1821 of the trends in gentry and peerage influence. As the importance of gentry connections sank, peerage interest doubled, bringing the two groups to a virtual equality in which each accounted for approximately a quarter of the traceable candidates. Naval connections remained virtually unchanged from the 1811 sample, and showed only a shallow rise between 1821 and 1831. Boys with connections in the ‘all other’...

  13. 7 Nineteenth-Century Crime and Punishment, 1801–1831
    (pp. 194-203)

    The courts martial records from 1801 to 1831 presented a very different picture of junior officer crime from the cases recorded in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Crimes committed by junior officers between 1760 and 1800 identified a parallel between a heightened sensitivity to matters of gentlemanly honour and an increase in the number of charges for insubordination, disobedience, and insolence as the eighteenth century progressed. The increase in the proportion of attacks, verbal and physical, on superior officers appeared to be directly linked to concerns for social and professional honour. Evidence from the courts martial records, particularly...

  14. 8 Beyond Reform: The Future of Naval Command
    (pp. 204-208)

    After 1831 the navy implemented changes which affected both the system of entry and the mode of advancement within the junior officer ratings. While these changes ultimately advanced the central power of the Admiralty to determine who entered the navy as an officer candidate, the process was far from direct. Efforts to standardize recruitment manifested slowly and at times appeared to be all but abandoned. Not until the mid-nineteenth century did a more uniform, centralized system of selection, education, and training finally take form.

    Beginning in 1816 the Admiralty refocused its attentions on the age-old problem of educating young gentlemen...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-216)

    The goals of this book, outlined in Chapter 1, were threefold. The first was to test contemporary observations that the French Wars brought social change to the corps of young gentlemen, change which saw opportunities narrow for all but the social and power elites, and resulted in the rise of a more aristocratic midshipmen’s berth by 1815. The need to revisit these observations in light of Michael Lewis’s opposing theory of a growing social diversity on naval quarterdecks during the war¹ provided the starting point for this study. The second aim was to assess the Admiralty’s role in altering the...

  16. APPENDIX A Sampling results: quarterdeck boys and junior officers with traceable social backgrounds, 1771–1831
    (pp. 217-217)
  17. APPENDIX B Ages and passing times, 1771–1831
    (pp. 218-218)
  18. APPENDIX C Wages and allocations of quarterdeck boys and junior officers, 1771, 1797, 1807
    (pp. 219-220)
  19. APPENDIX D Estimates of available positions for captains’ servants/1st-class volunteers, and midshipmen and masters’ mates, 1771–1831
    (pp. 221-221)
  20. APPENDIX E Sample numbers for final databases, 1771–1831
    (pp. 222-222)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-236)
  22. Index
    (pp. 237-246)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)