At the turn of the 20th century the Royal Navy had about 60,000 men. Unlike the Army there was no need for an extensive training program. The Navy did not have recruiting officers like the Army. In fact the Navy had 10 volunteers for every position available on its training ships. Naval training ships are a topic that we do not yet fully understand. We have seen several ships referred to as royal navy training ships over time. Here we will list ships both chrologically and by ship name. As far as we know, the Royal Navy trained boys aboard active duty ships until 1855 when the first naval training ship was commissioned.Some naval schools for younger lads, particularly reform schools, were based in old hulks, tied up in port that were referred to as naval training ships. The Royal Navy had training ships preparing boys for both the Navy a Marchant Navy. There were quite a few other ships dotted along the coast of the Britsih Isles run by Asylums and other organizations. They took in delinquent youth and transforming the boys into dependable recruits for the Royal and Merchant navies.
For several centuries, boys and men had mostly joined a specific ship and not the Royal Navy as a whole. The men joined for the length of the ship's commission only about 3-5 years. This was not a very efficent system. Voluntary manning had become a problem. Britain did not have a systen of conscription. The skills aboard ship had to be learned. This came at a cost. And many men after leaning a skill would then sign on with the merchant navy where the sonditiuins were less strict and the pay higher. Thus new men had to be trained at considerable cost. The Admiralty concluded that a more effiicent and system was needed to ensure the continual supply of well-trained a disciplimned crew members. The Admiralty decided they should recruit boys a number of who were interested in joining the Eoyal Navy. This was not new, many captains had allowed boy of different ages on their ships for centuries. What was new was an organized system to train boys and ensure that they remained with the Nvy for some time. The first steo was Parliament passing a law (1847). The new law authorized the formal enlistment of boys as part of a new organised training for a Royal Navy career at sea.
This was the vbegiininh of a long-term "continuous service" career structure. The Admirakty set up a Committee on Manning. The Committee concurred about the need for a organized effort based upon the recruitment of boys for training. This was seen as the answer to manning an efficient, professional, and permanent Navy. The minimum age was fixed at 15 years, although we have seen some Admiratly documents mention 14 1/2 years. (We know that younger boys served on Royal Navy vessels earlier.) The photographic record suggests even younger boys were involved. On their 19th birthday, they were expected to sign on for a 12-year stint as an adult rating (enlisted man). The Admiralty estimated that 3,500 boy recruits would be required annually. (This changed after World War I when the fleet was significantly down-sized. One source mentions the HMS Illustrious as the first training ship (1854). Anoter source maintains that HMS Implacable (1855) was the first ship. Other legendary names included HMS Ganges, HMS St Vincent, and others. We have note about 20 different ships over the approximatey century that the program was in place. The boys were rated Second Class Boys when they arrived at the training ships. There they were supplied with uniforms, although they were charged for it.
At the turn of the 20th century the Royal Navy had about 60,000 men. Unlike the Army, the Royal Navy had no need for an extensive recruitment program. The Navy did not have recruiting officers like the Army. Many boys wanted to join the Royal Navy. In fact the Navy had 10 volunteers for every position available on its training ships. One source reports, "So great is the number of would-be sailors that of every ten boys who leave the shore in watermen's boats to be examined by the officers of the training-ships, nine are returned to their parents. The medical examination is of a most stringent character. A weak chest, a swollen joint, missing teeth, or any slight irregularity is sufficent to condemn a boy in the eyes of the examining surgeon. .... Moreover, not only have the boys to show their physical fitness for sea-service, but they must satisfy an examiner in reading, writing and arithmetic." [Hurd, p. 322.]
Some naval schools for younger lads, particularly reform schools, were based in old hulks, tied up in port that were refrred to as naval training ships. HBC is not precisely sure while these old hulks were used. We assume that they were ships that were no longer sea worthy and had no value other than scrap. They were as a result, available at little or no cost. Thus these vessels were available at a fraction of the cost of actually building a school. They added the benefit because they were ships of offering the boys hands on experience with some of the equipment they would operate when they went to sea. HBC hopes to persue the topic of training ships in Britain.
We have seen several ships referred to as royal navy training ships over time. Here we will list ships both chrologically and by ship name. As far as we know, the Royal Navy trained boys aboard active duty ships until 1855 when the first naval training ship was commissioned. A 1896 reports lists active trainong ships. The Impregnable and Lion were at Devonport. The Boscawen was located at Portland. The St. Vincent was located at Portsmouth. The Caledonia was located at Queensferry. Listing the Royal Navy training ships is a little complicated. For one thing the Navy replaced many of the ships, but kept the old names. Another complication is that all sorts of other agencies set up training programs as a way of dealing with orphans and delinquents. I am not entirely sure of the relationship with the Royal Navy. The objective was to prepare the boys to enter either the Royal Navy or the Merchant Marine. We will archieve any information we can find here.
A HBC reader tells us that the Royal Navy establishments were less spartan and generally shore-based. This was certainly the case by the 20th century. The Royal Navy did, however, use these ships as training facilities in the 19th andc early-20th centuries. HBC notes Prince Albert complaining to naval authorities about them soon after they were created. We are not sure what action the Admiralty took. There of course were other schools to train officers. The Royal Navy opened the Osbourne Naval Training School at Victoria and Albert's family retreat in 19?? and later the Dartmouth Naval College.
The training ships continued to be used for orphanages and reformatories into the 20th century.
A British reader tells us that some of these training ship were used for orphanages. We assume this began in the 19th century, although we have few details at his time. One example is the Arethusa home in Kent.
Other training ships were used as reformatories. We are unsure as to when this first began.
The purpose of the Royal Navy schools was obviously to prepare officers. The orphanage and reformaories situated on these old hulks turned into training ships was to take orphans with few other prospects and delinquents who were off to a bad start and transform the boys into dependable recruits for the Royal and Merchant navies equipped with many of the basic skills hey would require in their new profession.
We do not know to what extent completion of the the training ship program was required for entering the Royal Navy. Of course during emergencies (Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II), virtally all volunteers were taken. During the Napoleonic wars, the Royal Navy was press ganged. And at sea, the Royal Navy impressed men of American ships,leading to the War of 1812. But in normal times there were sufficent volunteers. We are not sure to what extent the Royal Navy depended on the boys of the training ship program as opposed to adult volunteers. We know rhat not all new recruits went vthrough the training ship program, even boys. Excptions were apparently made for stewards, band members, and boy writers (clerks).
We are not sure at this time of the ages of the boys on the Royal Navy training ships. They clearly included pre-teen boys and in the available images from the early-20th century they seem to be a mix of pre-teens and early teens. After World War I the age was raised. The age during the 1930s seems to have been 15 years with parental permission.
We do not yet have information on the Royal Navy training program for the boys on the ships. It was novel to accept young boys and train them. This had been done for centuries aboard the ships. The novel aspect of the traioning program was that the training program was formally organized and conducted aboard moored ships.
The boys spent a great deal of time on the training ships and, later in the program, relateded shore facilities. It was essentially like attending a boarding school. Given the age of the boys, one would think thst there would have been some provision for recreational activities. Here we have virtully no information. We do notice the boys were allowed to swim. Of course this was a useful skill for any sailor. Thus there must have been swimming lessons. The photographic record suggests that a good part of this activity was recreational. Of course this was only possible seasonally. Given the confines of the ship, we wonder how much free time the boys could have been given. The photographic record does not tell us much as it mostly comes from after World War I, at least snapshot type images giving us some idea about daily activities.
The boys on the Royal Navy training ships wore classic sailor suits. The training ship program began a few decades after the Royal Navy adopted uniforms for ratings. We are not sure when this was, about the 1830s. As far as we can tell the boys wore the same uniforms with only minor changes from when the training ship program began (1855) to when it was ended after World War II. The most obvious changes were the caps. The uniforms basically followed the current styles in the Royal Navy. The boys had both a white summer and blue winter uniform. The white uniform was plain. The boys wore black silk scarves with both the white and blue uniforms. The blue uniform had the traditional stripe detailing. The pants were bell-bottoms in the 19th century, but the wide trouser bittoms are less obvious in 20th century images, especially after World war I. The boys went barefoot while aboard ship. We believe this was a tradition instituted because Royal Navy sailors until after the Napoleonic Wars usually were barefoot aboard ships. They put on shoes and socks when they went ashore.
Carradice, Phil. Nautical Training Ships: An Illustrated History.
Hurd, Archibald S. "How blue-jackets are trained," The Winsor Magazine (1896).
Related Military School Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
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