Working Boys' Clothing: Cabin Boys

Figure 1.--This portrait shows a Chinese boy serving as a cabin boy on an American ship in the 1860s. The CDV was taken by Nobley Lopez at Callao. This was port for Lima. A note on the back reads, "My father's Chinese cabin boy. "No. 1 Boy".

We suspect that cabin boys or ships' boys may have served on ships in antiquity, but we have no information on this. The infoirmation we have on cabin boys dates from the European maritime outreach and the voyages of discovery. The shiops involved commonly carried boys, including very young boys. At the time boys from common families did not attend school or had very limited schooling. They were essentially boys appreticed to be seamen. Commonly the younger boys seved as servants to the captain and officers, but were given other duties as tey got older or as needed on the ship. Boys employed as servants would catter to the needs of the captain or principal officers, keepng their quaters clean and washing their clothes and serving meals. They would also run errands and other tasks assigned to them. There might be more than on cabin boys on a ship, depending on the size. Some very famous sailors began as cabin boys. Perhaps the most famous was American naval hero, John Paul Jones. Very commonly the ship's boy was the son of a family friend or acquaintance of te captain. Ther father would ask or even pay the captain totake his son to sea as part of his preparation to become a seaman. As late as the 18th century, the British Royal Navy commonly accepted boys a young as 9 years old to enlist as cabin boys. The Royal Navy used the term "servants". The Royal Navy rose the minimum age to 13 years (1794). This was just at the time when the Briutish were beginning an unprecendented expansion of the Royal Navy to fight the Napoleonic Wars. As apprentice seamen, they learned the ropes and that included working in the rigging. On mn of war, the boys had their duty stations. The smaller boys woukld serve as powder monkies or carry water to the sailors operating the guns. On merchant vessels, boys in ports of call might be signed on to serve as cabin boys.


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Created: 5:39 AM 8/9/2009
Last updated: 5:39 AM 8/9/2009