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    Re: Master & Commander
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2003 Dec 10, 15:08 +0000

    Fred Hebard said, of Trevor's account of the Royal Navy's class and
    promotion system-
    >Very nice discourse.
    I agree. And I would support Trevor's recommendation of "The Wooden World".
    >I understand, from O'Brian of course, that some
    >commissioned officers could come up through the "hawse hole,"
    >especially early in the life of the British Navy.  So that
    >non-gentleman could become gentlemen by that route.  Comments?
    It was possible. One famous exception was, of course, James Cook, not a
    born "gentleman", who at 27 had worked his way up to be offered a ship of
    his own in the North Sea merchant trade.
    Astoundingly, he then gave that up to enter the Royal Navy as an AB
    (able-bodied seaman). His qualities must have been obvious, for within a
    month he had been promoted to Master's Mate.
    Within two years he was Master of ship-of-the-line Pembroke, and so
    responsible for taking the vessel from A to B under the command of her
    Captain. It was in that capacity he did his surveying of the St Lawrence,
    and later, as Master of his own small surveying vessel, his survey of
    Newfoundland, which involved several Atlantic crossings. Presumably, he
    would then expect to be addressed as captain of that vessel "Grenville".
    Since his appointment as Master of "Pembroke", he had been a
    warrant-officer, not a commissoned-offer holding the King's commission, so
    not yet a "gentleman"
    It was not until he took over Endeavour for her circumnavigation that he
    was given a King's commission, as Lieutenant. Through this commision, he
    became one of the "gentlemen". Throughout that voyage he was addressed by a
    courtesy-title as captain of the ship, but was not appointed (or paid) as
    After returning, Cook was, for the second voyage (in Resolution),
    commissioned as Commander, one rank down from Captain.
    Returning from that, he was appointed, now as Captain, to a sinecure post
    at the Naval Hospital at Greenwich, from which he volunteered to go, again
    in Resolution, on his third and fatal voyage. Such a small vessel would not
    normally have someone of Captain's rank in charge, but the circumstances
    were exceeptional.
    So we have to distinguish between the job of a ship's captain, which Cook
    had been doing, and presumably addressed as, ever since he left "Pembroke",
    and the rank of Captain of a King's Ship, which he didn't achieve (nor the
    pay that went with it) until his final voyage.
    This next bit, I admit, is somewhat off-topic, but it does have some relevance.
    I think it's worth adding to Trevor's excellent account that in Britain
    (and particulaly in England rather than Scotland) we still remain
    bedevilled by the same class system that so restricted naval appointments
    in the 18th century. It surprises many visitors, particularly Americans,
    who have embraced equality of opportunity.
    Nowadays, the distinction is made not by birth so much as by education. We
    have what are curiously called "public" schools, which have fees set at a
    similar level to the total income of ordinary working people, so they are
    the preserve of an elite rich. The vast majority attend the free State
    Differentiation between the two is made by speech. In State schools the
    kids naturally acquire a distinctive local accent, but the others isolate
    their pupils as far as possible and inculcate a "public school accent",
    which any Briton will immediately recognise. It is this that still flags up
    membership of a "governing class".
    So, in the British Army, for example, you will find that anyone who speaks
    with that accent will be an officer, or on his way to becoming one. It
    would be astounding to discover an ordinary Joe in the Army who spoke that
    way. Nowadays, true, it is possible for a bright State-school product to
    make his mark and advance, along a path like that of Colin Powell. But his
    task is much harder than it is for posh-speakers.
    This distinction applies in many fields: The law, politics, boardrooms.
    Less, nowadays, in the Royal Navy. It's never been a big problem in the
    Royal Air Force, for which technical ability was more important right from
    the start.
    In Britain, the "governing class" still looks after its own, via the "old
    boy network" of the public schools.
    You might guess, from the above, which side of that divide I hail from. And
    you would guess right.
    contact George Huxtable by email at george@huxtable.u-net.com, by phone at
    01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy
    Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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