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    Re: Master & Commander
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2003 Dec 10, 09:12 +0000

    Fred Hebard wrote:
    > Very nice discourse.  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?
    Rodger goes to some pains to emphasize that, in the 1750s, the whole
    notion of of a Sea Officer coming aft through the hawse hole was
    irrelevant because all of them started their careers at sea as common
    seamen (albeit ones marked out by birth for higher things). By 1800, the
    marking out seems to have been more prominent. [I'm no social historian
    but I think that the increased social mobility driven by the industrial
    revolution led to upper class resistance and a hardening of class
    The real question is probably whether people of humble (or relatively
    humble) birth could become Commissioned Sea Officers. The answer is yes.
    A minority of them (maybe 10%) came from what we would now regard as the
    middle class -- essentially sons of merchants. A very few percent of the
    officer corps came from working-class backgrounds. Most (or all?) of
    those were merchant-service mates who became naval Master's Mates, then
    Masters, and were Commissioned as a reward for some special service.
    James Bowen, master of the flagship at the Glorious First of June, was
    made a Lieutenant as a reward and eventually died a Rear Admiral, for
    At the opposite end of the spectrum, a minority of officers were of
    noble birth (usually younger sons of aristocrats, though some like
    Cochrane were heirs to titles which had little money associated with
    them). At the top of the heap was Prince Billy, who served as a
    Midshipman in the 1780s (enjoying wild times here in Halifax), became
    Admiral of the Fleet in 1811 and eventually King William (the "Sailor
    King") on the death of George IV in 1830.
    However, unlike in the more recent US Navy, becoming an officer did not
    make a man a gentleman and I doubt that polite society ashore would ever
    have accepted Bowen or even an Admiral whose father had been a wealthy
    London banker. [Readers of Jane Austen's novels, or those like me who
    only watch the movie versions, will have encountered the objections of
    polite society to any Sea Officers, no matter what their parentage. A
    teenage spent aboard warships did not make for social refinement, while
    prize money allowed younger sons of country parsons to become wealthier
    than many Dukes -- which was not calculated to appeal to those whose
    pride was built on inherited land.]
    Trevor Kenchington
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus{at}iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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