Education of mercantile mariners in the North East ports (1840-1902)
In the 1830s, there was increasing public alarm about the numbers of vessels and lives lost at sea. On a national level, a Select Committee was set up in 1836 to investigate the problem and in its report it made a number of suggestions which, it hoped, would bring about an improvement in the conduct of British merchant vessels. one of these recommendations was the establishment of a system of examinations, which would have resulted in only those who held a certificate of either competency or service being allowed to officer a vessel. Moves to introduce legislation setting up such a system failed due to the lobbying of shipowners and fears that it was wrong for Parliament to meddle in private commerce. It was then left to local initiative to establish examinations and in the north east ports on the rivers Tyne, Blyth and Wear, Sunderland and South Shields seem to have taken the first steps in starting a series of examinations. The systems were ".operated by the local marine insurance associations and they were the predecessors of the national voluntary system established in 1845. However, as so few men came forward to be examined it was decided that if the system was to have any beneficial effect, it would have to be made compulsory, which came about in 1851.The aim of this research is to investigate what facilities were available for mercantile mariners to gain the knowledge necessary to pass the voluntary examinations and later the compulsory examinations. Ihe hypotheses to be examined were as follows: the idea that the proprietary schools were run by retired or invalid seamen; that these were replaced by institutionalised schools organised by bodies, such as Trinity House, Newcastle; and whether a new sort of school appeared when examinations for marine engineers were introduced in 1862. An attempt has been made additionally to consider how boys intending to go to sea were educated. Particular attention is paid to the education provided on board training vessels, such as the Tyneside Industrial Training Ship’ Wellesley', and in shore schools, such as those provided by Trinity House, Newcastle, Sunderland Board of Trade Navigation School, Sunderland Orphan Asylum and the South Shields Marine School. To make the research more significant, an attempt has been made to compare local findings with data from other ports, such as Hull and Leith. These places were chosen because they were east coast ports and involved in trades similar to those undertaken by vessels sailing from the north east ports. They were also selected because they had institutionalised schools as well as proprietary schools available to educate mercantile mariners. The data for this study was unusually scattered among a wide range of sources. Information about the proprietary schools has been gathered from a number of sources including local trade directories, nautical publications, newspapers and census returns for 1841-1881. Knowledge about many of the institutionalised schools was more accessible, and a great deal of information about the Sunderland Board of Trade Navigation. Schools and Trinity House School, Newcastle, was contained in the Science and Art Departments Reports. Details of the South Shields Marine School are contained in the School’s admission registers, the Governors' Journals and books of press cuttings. The annual report of the Governors of the ‘Wellesley’ Industrial Training Ship and other materials are available for consultation at the school and a number of Home Office files in the Public Record Office also contain information about the vessel. The research is significant because it is one of few attempts to assess this aspect of Victorian education. There have been a few attempts to narrate the history of the local institutionalised schools, but this is one of the first projects to make a detailed study of proprietary nautical and marine engineering academies. This is essentially a local case study and a great deal more work needs to be done nationally, but such investigations will be very time consuming. Finally, the work is significant because it is an attempt to evaluate the system of examinations as a means of ensuring greater safety at sea.