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  1. #1
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    Default Child Mariners 1800's

    Hello, I'm researching an ancestor who was a merchant mariner from Jersey, CI. I've got his mates/masters records and looking at his voyages he first went to sea on 12th April 1829, however his date of birth is shown 14th April 1817 which make him barely 12 years old. I can't seem to establish if it would have been possible at that time for a child that young to go to sea or the date of birth is incorrect.

    I'm pretty sure I've found a baptism for him for 2nd May 1813 so that would tie in as that would make him 16, on the other hand he got married in 1848 and the age shown is 31 so that would make him born in 1817. His death however in 1880 shows him as being 66 so that again takes us back to 1813/1814.

    It's quite an unusual name to research so I'm pretty sure all the above relates to the same person but the discrepancy in date of birth is confusing. I'm wondering at what age a child could go to sea in 1829? Or maybe there was some initial mistake with paperwork when he first went to sea and a birth year of 1817 was incorrectly recorded and then subsequently carried through to future mariner records for him? Doesn't appear on any census records as he was at sea when taken.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Sue Mackay's Avatar
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    The Royal Navy actively employed children and minors within their ranks and indeed joining the Royal Navy as a boy was an often and unwritten prerequisite for a path towards an officer commission. Positions for minors began with the generic term "ship's boy" which was open to young boys between the ages of eight to twelve, although there was no established cut off and there are records of boys as old as 15 to 17 joining ships as boys.
    Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_...19th_centuries
    Sue Mackay
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  3. #3
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    Hi Sue, thank you. Must admit, I saw that but noticed it referred to Royal Navy rather than merchant service. I guess maybe we can assume same age ranges applied for merchant navy.

  4. #4
    Valued member of Brit-Gen barbara lee's Avatar
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    I have a distant connection who was at sea when he was aged 9. See young Reuben below.

    1851 census: 1 Burns Place, Cross Street, Northwood, West Cowes, Isle of Wight (HO107/1662, f106, p18)
    Thomas Davis, head, mar, 42, master mariner, born West Cowes
    Amelia Davis, wife, mar, 39, born Laverstock Wilts
    Alice Davis, dau, 11, scholar, born West Cowes
    Reuben Davis, son, 9, sails with his father, born West Cowes
    Elizabeth Davis, dau, 7, born West Cowes

  5. #5
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    I looked at the Wikipedia entry for Admiral Lord Nelson which told me that he was born in 1758 and after some time at grammar school sailed in January 1771 which my subtraction indicates he was only 14. That year he made a trip to Jamaica and Tobago with a merchant ship before returning to join his uncle on a Royal Navy ship. So, while a little older than your fellow, he was still pretty young especially as he had his first command as Captain at 21. pwholt

  6. #6
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    We forget that there it was not until the Factory and Workshop Act of 1901 that the minimum age for work was raised to 12. The equivalent act in 1878 set the minimum age at 8.

    I recently various censuses in slate quarrying parish in North Wales, and in the 1841 I actually found a 5 year old listed as an "ag lab". Of course no state pension so people worked until they dropped. So in the same census there was 93 year old stone mason.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for responses, it looks as could be possible. His first trip was 8 months long April-December 1829 , just says 'Coast Of Africa'. Quite an adventure for a 12 Year old!

  8. #8
    Super Moderator - Completely bonkers and will never change.
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    I know that young boys were 'employed' by the navy because I'd heard of powder monkeys, but I had to look up the usual age of a powder monkey though I knew it was fairly young as they had to be small.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powder_monkey

    Pam
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