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Inger Sheil

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G'day Mary -

quote:

Did E.J. Smith really begin his career at sea as a cabin boy? Those cabin-boy-to-Captain stories are pretty rare!
Gary Cooper could better address this one, but my understanding is that he was apprenticed aboard the Senator Weber on 5 February 1867. So no - he didn't come up through the Hawse Hole, going the ship's boy - OS - AB - 2nd Mate - 1st Mate - Master route. He did his apprenticeship and then sat for his BoT certifications.

In an earlier age, more officers had come from the lower decks. After around about 1850 with the BoT certification process in place it was more common for them to come from apprenticeships through to second, first and master's tickets. As it was required to pay a fairly substantial sum to have a boy indentured as an apprentice, the social strata from which officers and men were drawn widened as well.

Theoretically, there was nothing to stop an AB with the appropriate sea time from studying for and sitting for his second mate's certification. It was, however, not all that common. Of the Titanic's men, Harold Lowe was the only one who had worked his way up from ship's boy to a master's certification. He was rather proud that he had come up through the hawse hole.​
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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Hello, Inger! Nice to hear from you again! Your explanation about apprenticeships and the BoT's emergence as a "by-pass" from the Hawse Hole certainly makes sense! (You have great information!). The only reason I brought this up was due to a comment made by George C. Scott's character of E.J. Smith in the REALLY BAD TV miniseries, "Titanic - the Z. Jones one), in which he mentions something about: "I haven't done that since I was a cabin boy". How long did those apprenticeships generally last, and was there an age limit for an apprentice to begin? What was the general cost for this? (This may belong on another thread). Interesting bit about Harold Lowe, too. It certainly puts him higher on my "admiration" list! Thanks, Inger, for your explanation. You are helping to add to my very limited knowledge!
 

Inger Sheil

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No worries. I think that the problem was the script writers not really understanding the system then in place - 'Cabin Boy' sounds more romantic than 'apprentice.' The script for the miniseries also had a line in there with Lowe muttering he 'wasn't about to lose his stripes on the first night out' - the original script had him go on and say something like 'not even if it would break my record of losing them the second night.' Quite amusing when one knows how hard Lowe worked to keep his record clean and how exemplary his written references were at the time he joined the WSL. There was at least one instance of him being promoted during a voyage (and another when he got bumped up a rank on sailing day with a new company).

Apprenticeships were of a four year duration, or three years if the apprentice had attended two years on a training ship. James Moody, for example, only did a three year apprenticeship as his 2 years on the training ship Conway counted as one year of an Apprenticeship. Most boys were 14 - 17 when they were indentured, but boys could be signed up as young as 13. Cost could be quite expensive - premiums at the turn of the century could be £60 or more.
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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I think that the script writers were "apprenticed" to the network for money, rather than accuracy, especially since this was a fairly recent production! Lowe was never really a major player in movie productions, though, was he? Lightoller and Bride(ANTR), Murdoch and Andrews (Titanic 97), and Ismay (most of them) pretty much took "center court". (Wimbledon aside). I don't have a symbol for "pounds" on my new-fangled Compaq Presario American-style computer, but I can imagine the sacrifice that 60 pounds in the early 1900's must have encompassed! Where did these families come up with the money? It sounds like it may have been an expectation/inherited thing for older sons, and was provided for in advance. The price of a one-way third-class ticket on the Titanic was around 3 pounds - I think. My Parkman ancestors were very far from the sea, but had some considerable money (long since lost) and influence (equally lost), which enabled them to sail with John Winthrop...so I've hard. Thanks once again, Inger, and "Skol" and "Oofta" to you!
 

Bob Godfrey

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Hi, Mary. You needed about £7-£8 ($35-$40 )for a 3rd Class ticket on Titanic - about twice the monthly earnings of a White Star steward, for instance. Bearing in mind that there wasn't much to spare from the wage packets in a working class household in 1912, that meant a long time saving.
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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Thanks, Bob. I don't know where I read or heard that the price was 3 pounds, but 7-8 pounds per person seems to make more sense, and could explain why whole farms and land-holdings were sold to procure one-way tickets for families! Question: Did WSL (or Cunard) stewards/employees get any kind of "discount" for family members? (I doubt that the Frequent Flyer concept was thought of in those days, but just thought I'd ask). Thanks.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Probably the Directors were entitled to discounts or free travel (certainly Bruce Ismay had a complimentary ticket) and I seem to recall that there were a few other passengers in First and/or Second Class who pulled strings to negotiate good deals on ticket prices, but I'm not aware of any discount scheme for grass roots employees. Most companies in 1912 would have felt neither need nor obligation to do their employees any favours beyond paying them a living wage. It was always possible, of course, for a crew member to get free passage by jumping ship in New York!
 

Inger Sheil

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And 'Skol' back to you! That was one magic toast that still comes up in family recollections of our visits to the Swedish relatives over the years.

You're correct - Lowe has never really had a major part on screen, save for the miniseries role (and given how that was written, I think he could have done without it - although he does get to deliver those gloriously fatuous 'words of wisdom' to Catherine Zita Jones at the end!). He has a decent cameo in ANTR, but too much Lowe would have detracted from the central figure of Lightoller. The rewriting of his words to Ismay on the boat deck, which were then given to Lightoller to deliver, were quite amusing. He pretty much blends into the background in SOS Titanic, although is identifiable, at least briefly. His son, Harold WG Lowe, was rather pleased that he was at least given something of a role in the Cameron movie.

A career at sea did tend to either be something of a family heritage matter (e.g. in Boxhall and Murdoch's cases it was a family profession for generations) or a means of finding a career for the sons of the professional classes. Moody, for example, was a third son...these have often been sent into, say, the military, and in his case his family needed to find a career for him so it was off into the merchant service. His own wishes in the matter were not particularly high on the list of priorites.
 

Noel F. Jones

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What's a "hawse hole"? A fo'c'sle hand attaining officer rank only ever "came up through the hawse PIPE".

And, as a matter of amused interest can anyone cite an instance of anyone actually signing articles as a "Cabin Boy" rated as such? I strongly suspect that this supposed 'rating' lies only in florid fiction and pantomime.

Noel
 

Inger Sheil

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Sorry Noel - I have heard the phrase 'come up through the hawse hole' and 'hawse hole officer' utilised by friends in the merchant service. It also has support from other sources - these are a couple I came across in just a few moments of Googling:

Brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable:
quote:

Hawse-hole He has crept through the hawse-hole, or He has come in at the hawse-hole. That is, he entered the service in the lowest grade; he rose from the ranks. A naval phrase. The hawse-hole of a ship is that through which the cable of the anchor runs
From Webster's dictionary:
quote:

– To come in at the hawse holes, to enter the naval service at the lowest grade. [Cant]
And here's a lovely usage from Herman Melville himself:
quote:

Eyeing Don Benito's small, yellow hands, he easily inferred that the young captain had not got into command at the hawse-hole but the cabin-window, and if so, why wonder at incompetence, in youth, sickness, and aristocracy united? Such was his democratic conclusion.
Generally I use the phrase 'hawse pipe' as that is what Lowe himself used, but of late I've heard 'hawse hole' so often it has slipped into my lexicon!

As for the phrase 'cabin boy' - I've never seen it appear in articles for the period I work with (circa 1880 - 1940). The term in both articles and most literature written by commentators of the era is 'ship's boy'.​
 

Bob Godfrey

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In Nelson's time an apprentice sailor's rank was simply 'boy'. These lads, who might be as young as 12, were also referred to by many other terms, including 'ship's boy' and 'grommet' (from the Spanish), and a lad whose duties included looking after the Captain's or officers' quarters might I suppose have been addressed as 'cabin boy'. William Hutchinson, author of 'Treatise on Practical Seamanship' (1747) wrote of his own early experience as 'cabin boy' and then cook on a collier, but this was probably again a descriptive term rather than any official designation.
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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I'm wondering if the use of "ship's boy" was more prevalent on merchant vessels as opposed to passenger vessels. "Cabins" may have referred to the very few private quarters aboard merchant vessels, while there would have been many more numerous private cabins aboard passenger vessels, possible giving the term "cabin" boy a different meaning. Pardon the very bad syntax.
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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Inquiring minds want to know: Was there a difference in apprenticeship qualifications, prices, and expectations between clippered (sailing) and steam vessels? Since both operated under very different power sources, the training must have been very different. Thanks, all!
 

Bob Godfrey

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Mary, you couldn't do better than read about Lightoller's apprenticeship in sail and transition to steam. You have a choice of buying his biography 'Titanic Voyager' by Patrick Stenson (if you're rich like Inger) or (if you're cheap like me) you can get his own work 'Titanic and Other Ships' free - see this thread:

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5671/71854.html?1059090821

You have to be Australian or Canadian to get the download legally, but it's a good read so emigration is a small price to pay.
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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Well, geez, Bob! Do you have ANY idea how much it would cost a dirt-poor Yank (heh heh) to emigrate to Canada? Good Gawd - all kinds of financial information, background information, fingerprints, hefty bank account, and guaranteed job! And real estate prices in Ontario/Alberta/British Columbia/Sasketchawan/Yukon/NW Territories/Maritime Provinces...checked them out lately? Vanacouver's cost of living is on an equal with San Fransisco! (A million US a month for a three-bedroom condo. It's easier for YOU to emigrate than me! (Even though US 1.00 equals CAD .75) I say, let's have our very rich friend, Inger, download this and e-mail it to me! Think we can entice her?

Aside: There are many Americans (including me) who are considering moving to Canada for particular reasons.
 

Inger Sheil

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Would that I did have the money to fly you all out to Oz!

I do second Bob's nomination of TAOS as a great primary source for what it was like in those transitional days from sail to steam. To answer your question; yes, there were two forms of BoT certification available in 1912. One could either aim for a Master's ticket in sail or in steam. However, if you were ambitious and expected to get anywhere with companies such as Cunard or the WSL, it had to be in sail. Sail trained officers were regarded as having undergone more rigorous training and experiences, and were regarded as better all-rounders. The WSL's own training ship, the Mersey, was a sailing vessel, even though the company itself ran steamers. It was only with the war and the shortage of officers in the merchant service with these larger companies (many of their pre-war officers were RNR, and went into the Navy for the duration) that these strictures began to relax and these companies began taking in more steam trained officers. Men like Bestic, for example, were able to get a berth on the Lusitania. I should add that though certification in sail was preferred (and, indeed, a requirement pre-war for larger companies), they also had to have had experience in steam.

Skills hard won in sail, among both officers and ABs, began to atrophy after a while in Steam. I was reading about one of the last great William Thomas vessels the other day, the Metropolis, and a voyage on which she made what was for her a comparatively slow crossing. The crew put it down to her master being a man who had been in sail, gone to steam, and had come back to command a vessel in sail again, the result being that he had lost confidence. Men of the era snorted about 'knocking of the sea and going into steam' or spoke of 'ships of wood, men of iron. Ships of iron, men of wood.'

Of the Titanic's offices, Joseph Boxhall spent the shortest amount of time in sail. There was some anxiety for them when they made the transition - James Moody left a wonderful record of moving into steam. It was clear to these men that this was the future of their profession, as the runs on which sail could still compete with steam were becoming fewer and fewer. So Moody, with the help of his last sailing ship master, simply signed on a steamer after he had earned his second mate's certification. The period whilst she prepared for sea was somewhat nerveracking for him, because, as he put it, there was so much he didn't know about being in a 'hot water bottle', and 'I never open my mouth without I shall have my foot in it.' In the end, though, there were no mishaps and he spent the remainder of his short career, and life, in steam.
 
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Mary S. Lynn

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Thanks, Inger (even though we won't be flying down on your dollar!). I didn't realize the strict emphasis on sail-training during those days, especially during the transition to steam, but it makes sense. Interesting about the WSL training ship being a sailing vessel, too. I mentioned this because I saw a film several years ago ("Rounding the Horn" I think?). I believe it was filmed in the 1920's and the footage was filmed by a very young seaman (18 or so) from the Crow's Nest vantage point, and showed this huge clipper sailing around Cape Horn, going from doldrums to full-force gale seas and winds. (How the guy managed to film and not fall is a miracle). He narrated it as an older man, mentioning his particular sail-training and lamenting the fact that the steamers would soon be "taking over" for good. I believe he was an American, as was the ship (?), whose name I cannot remember. I think he must have been a "ships of wood, men of iron" kind of fellow!
 

Inger Sheil

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There's some amazing footage and photos from those last days of sail (and literature too - Lubbock's Last of the Windjammers springs to mind), Mary. One of the most remarkable documents I've read is a letter written by a young apprentice on his first crossing in sail to NY. As the weeks unfolded, he added entries to the letter as one would in a diary. Once they hit dirty weather the voyage took on the aspect of a nightmare...going aloft when the ship was rolling to such an extreme it seemed that her mast tops would touch the waves, losing one man to a fall from the rigging and another to suicide, their quarters being so badly flooded that the apprentices couldn't sleep in them some nights, but had to curl up in the cockpit, and so on and so forth. A comprehensive study as late as the 1920s revealed that rates of accidental death and disease were considerably higher for seamen than they were for men of a comparable age and social strata ashore.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"A comprehensive study as late as the 1920s revealed that rates of accidental death and disease were considerably higher for seamen than they were for men of a comparable age and social strata ashore."

With the exception of the related occupation of deep sea fisherman:

The occupation of the merchant seaman has - statistically and consistently - been the most dangerous of all occupations.

Noel
 
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Mary S. Lynn

Guest
Well, Inger, I guess that lets those of us who dive with whales and sharks off the hook for most dangerous (leisure) occupation! I'm not surprised about the dangers that merchant seaman have faced over the hundreds of years, though.
A question for Noel: "With the exception of the related occupation of deep sea fisherman" - is this because deep-sea fishing is done closer to shore, utilizes smaller boats and crew, uses several craft at a time rather than just one, or anything else? I'm curious about this, because this is a BIG DEAL on the Gulf shores near here...mainly for pleasure, though - I think. I'm not from this area originally, have no desire to haul in a marlin, and definitely no expert! Thanks, Noel.