Ships' boys and charity in the mid-eighteenth century : the London Marine Society (1756-1772)
This study has three principal aims: to research the circumstances of mid-eighteenthcentury ships' boys, to look at the role the sea service played for contemporary youths with no family connections to the maritime world, and to deliver an institutional history of the Marine Society in its early years. Though present in significant numbers on board eighteenth-century vessels, ships' boys have rarely been considered by historians. The lack of research can partly be explained by the lack of source material, which is why the records of the London Marine Society, a charity that had made it its task to recruit boys for the sea service, are so valuable. The Marine Society was one of the most prominent charities in the wave of voluntary associations that emerged in the mid-eighteenth century, and this thesis aims to add to the historiography of the charity movement by investigating the Society's origins, how and by whom it was run and financed, and how successful its work was. To fulfil the first two aims, the backgrounds, motives and fates of the Marine Society's Seven-Years-War recruits were explored, drawing on the Society's registers of recruits and minutes, and the Royal Navy's muster books. The Society's institutional history was traced with the help of its minutes of committee meetings and its subscription lists, through contemporary newspapers and journals, and pamphlets written by the key figures. Going to sea as a boy during the Seven Years War was extremely dangerous, as the high casualty rate among the Marine-Society boys shows, yet if the youth managed to survive, being a sailor promised him a faster route to the (economic) independence of an adult than most land-based apprenticeships available to the children of the lower strata. The sea service could take on a dual character for such children: it could be a (near-)coercive institution where authorities or relatives sent a destitute or troublesome boy, but at the same time to the impoverished or non-conformist youth himself the sea could appear as the escape from his misery or from a society to which he was unable to conform. The Marine Society itself was not merely a recruitment project, but something that was deeply rooted in the concern about London's troubles with youth unemployment, misbehaviour and crime. The Society's impact on naval manpower during the Seven Years War has hitherto been overestimated; however, its contribution to the preservation of sailors through the effective typhus prevention measures it undertook has never received due recognition.