This study looks at the boy sailors of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, a group of sailors most often seen in the early volumes of long running series of novels (Hornblower being the most famous example).
The standard image of the boy sailor is of the young volunteer officer, starting his life as a midshipman, and with the potential to rise to the very top. Ronald does a very good job of reminding us that this was only part of the picture, looking at those boys who served as part of the normal crew, many provided to the navy by one of a number of charitable societies of the period (the Navy being seen as a much better option than life on the streets). These 'Scape Gallowses' left less evidence than their more literate colleagues, but Ronald has done a good job of bringing together the limited evidence that does exist about their lives.
In contrast the chapter on the 'Scape Gallowses' is followed by a look at the naval career of Prince William Henry, the third son of King George III, later chapters look at Nelson's young relatives and Jane Austen's brothers appear at regular intervals throughout the book (I didn't realise that two of her brothers reached the rank of Admiral, both having started as boy sailors).
This is a fascinating book, well supported by quotes from the boys' own letters or journals. The length of the wars means that by the end of the book most of our early boys have grown into men, but a new generation is introduced to take their place.
1 - 'Younkers in the top continually'
2 - Scape Gallowses
3 - A Royal Sailor
4 - A Sink of Vice and Abomination
5 - Young Squeaker
6 - Rites of Passage
7 - The Little World
8 - Into the Glorious Fray
9 - Mutiny, Punishment and Promotion
10 - The Battle of the Nile
11 - The Nelson Family at War
12 - Land Ahoy
13 - Trafalgar
14 - Spoils of War
15 - The War of 1812
16 - Napoleon on the Bellerophon
17 - 'Ah! The Peace has come too soon'
Author: D.A.B. Ronald