Mr. Selby / Concerning the Seaman's Mission

Cindy B

Cindy B

Greetings to you all! :)

First of all - I hope you are all fine and well in health?

I have a question on a rather particular matter - and thought that it might be worth a proper discussion. Briefly combing through the message board I couldn't find a suitable contribution in the existing threads. Thus I decided to open a new one. In case this was a hasty decision, as I missed another discourse on this topic, I'd like to apologise and kindly ask to have this question attached to the existing post.

Once more I was reading an article published by Inger Sheil describing, in a powerfully eloquent, informative and yet captivating manner, James Moody's first Transatlantic Crossing ('All the Horrors Seem to Happen at Night') with the Boadicea. While reading I began to ponder about the background circumstances of this incident:

While in New York, Moody took full advantage of the social contacts offered at the Seamans’ Mission. He struck up a rapport with one in particular, a Mr. Selby. While to modern eyes the relationship seems incongruous - and possibly even sinister – there is no reason to doubt that Selby’s motives in befriending the young man were anything but philanthropic. Supporters of missions to seamen often took apprentices under their wing.

Specifically, I wondered about the reasonings of wealthy benefactors taking young seafaring apprentices "under their wings". As Miss Sheil pointed out in her article, looking at a relation between an affluent (probably older?) gentleman and a young teenage boy gives off a rather ominous vibe, at least from the vantage point of the present. In particular recollecting all these horrible molestation scandals in certain ecclesiastical institutions. Although noted in addition that these social encounters weren't anything peculiar at the time, I started to wonder about the inducement of it. I'm not overly familiar with the customs and requirements of a young sailor taking part in a Seaman's Mission back then. What I gathered, though, in case it is comparable to the DSM (Deutsche Seemannsmission, as they call it here), would be that it is a Christian welfare association, particularly aiming to provide honorary support in daily errands (especially in a pandemic crisis such as now) and provide counselling, "supporting of seafarer's dignity" as they call it.

Now to the point of it - is there any information of the advantages and preconditions to be part of a Seaman's Mission back in the days (1900's)? Who were the benefactors in general and what used to be their "philantrophic" objection, if there was any besides doing something honourable for society? Also, is there any more information available on what happened to Mr. Selby, who was he and how did he become particularly acquainted with an apprentice like James Moody?

Even though I'm reading along since a couple of years, I must admit that I'm quite new to the technicalities of this message board. Therefore I'd like to apologise in advance for any occurring error or in case this post is allocated wrongly! I'd like to thank anyone in advance for taking the time to delve into this topic or explaining it to me a bit further. Cheers!
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Stephen Carey

Stephen Carey

Even though I was Merchant Navy for some 18 years, I can only answer from a Royal Navy perspective from what I have read over the years, and that is the very common practice of sending young men to sea under a benefactor.
To get anywhere in the rankings as a RN officer you had to start young and were either taken under the wing of a benefactor known to your parents, or a Captain who was prepared to take "young gentlemen" to sea on his particular ship, possibly as a return favour for another officer who had taken him under their wing when he himself was a young 'un. There was nothing sinister in this, and it was known as "interest" in that having no benefactor or "interest" meant no rising up the ranks, or if you did it was because you were a good fighter or did something to bring yourself to the notice of senior officers. Nelson himself used this "interest" being sent to sea at an early age and going pretty quickly up the ladder, helped by various deeds of derring do, such that he was a Post Captain at 21 years of age - a meteoric rise indeed. Whether his bottom had anything to do with this is unlikely, but who knows... It was generally frowned upon at sea and was punishable by death, but that didn't stop those of the inclination from having a go.
The Navy was usually the "2nd Son" occupation, the 1st son being the one who inherited the land and titles, the 3rd being consigned to the clergy. The 1st son may have a commission in the Army as that was bought - which commissions in the Navy never were. However, if you were related to the 1st Lord of the Admiralty, you could expect to get a ship where others were consigned ashore on half pay in the interwar periods (with France and Spain as the on-off enemy).
As to whether it exposed the young man to anything more sinister, I believe there is a poem somewhere that states "Immunity from buggery in the Navy is enjoyed by the hedgehog alone..." - as it is in any cloistered work area whether you are at sea, on shore or in a boarding school - the latter being hives of homosexual activity in the total absence of willing females!
I would imagine that it was the same in the Merchant Navy though that would have been pre-war (WW1) - 1900s as you state - where a boy may be too poor to afford even the basics of a life at sea, where a benefactor (rich uncle or friend) would be a friend indeed. The Missions to Seamen were a home from home all over the world, even in my day, and often the only source of entertainment ashore. I could well imagine that anyone of a mind to pay for a boy's seagoing start in life would have no ulterior motive other than that, as the boy would have been at sea most of the time and probably not meet his benefactor very often.
When I joined in the 1960s it was not necessary, you just had to sign on with a shipping company and they took over your training, seatime, leave, certificates of competency, pay etc., allowing you the same chance as anyone else in the service.
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I am just curious to know if we actually know more about Mr. Selby, including a first name? I would definitely like to get to know more about this mysterious man.