Victorian London - Charities - training ships 

see also the 'Worcester' - click here


see also The Marine Society - click here


INSTEAD of being wrinkled with crisp wavelets, the face of Father Thames is dimpled with a broad, heavy, unctuous smile. The water looks thick like oil, or rather like molten metal. A slight mist has been hanging about all day, and is only just clearing off from one of the prettiest spots by the riverside. Greenhithe, with its chalk pits and the green lawns of Ingress Abbey, gently woos the tourist. Stone Church, just above it, is worthy of a pilgrimage, as being the cause of the oldest and weakest joke connected with the Thames. This witticism was venerable in the time of Queen Elizabeth - a period by no means remarkable for the quality of its jokes - and was, perhaps, tottering to its grave when it was rescued and preserved by Reginald Scot, the author of The Discourse of Witchcraft. Perhaps the learned demonologist thought it funny, though it is difficult to imagine that any human being ever laughed at it. I do not repeat it in the hope that it will excite hilarity, but rather as a relic calculated to throw light upon the jests under which our stalwart forefathers contrived to exist. It belongs, I take it, to the species "quip," a description of joke, the art of making which is happily lost. "It is a common jest among the watermen of the Thames to show the parish church of Stone to the passengers, calling the same by the name of the 'Lanterne of Kent,' affirming, and that not untrnly, that the said church is as light (meaning in weight, and not in brightnesse) at midnight as at noonday." Did the nuns of Dartford while away their time in exchanging such merry conceits as this, or were they entirely occupied by checking accrnints with the great London fishmongers who took their salmon of them, and then proceeded to forestall and regrate the market at their pleasure? It was one of these· stock-fishmongers, by the way, who demolished the hero of Dartford, Wat Tyler, who no doubt had poached many a salmon out of the Darenth, before that pretty stream was tortured to serve the needs of paper and powder - mills. Yet the IDarenth has been more fortunate than Swanscombe Inlet, where Sweyn formed his winter camp, and the men of Kent, carrying green boughs, and led by Stigand, met the Conqueror -a story which opens a field of inquiry as to whether it was copied from the Birnamwood legend, or whether Shakespeare, like a skilful theatrical manager, "adapted" the incident of the Norman conquest to his Northern tragedy. Other spots in the neighbourhood are well worthy of visit. There is the Brent, where the Dartford martyrs suffered fiery death, and in Swanscombe Wood is Clappernappers Hole, a cavern full of legends. But to none of these objects of interest tend the pilgrims of to-day, some five or six hundred women and children - third class passengers all of them - many with features sharpened by hard work and privation, others jovial enough in manner, and devoted to the care of big baskets and nubbly parcels. These poor people are clad in their best "bibs and tuckers," and but for the baskets and bundles would wear a church-going look. Their object is the Arethusa, and her sister ship the Chichester, lying off in the river; for this, in the Arethusa tongue, is "mammy-day," the first Monday in the quarter, when the boys on board of those excellent training-ships are allowed to see their relatives, if they have any. As displays of affection on the part of persons of ill-regulated mind almost invariably take the form of something to eat or drink, it is not to be wondered at that the poor folk swarming towards the Arethusa are loaded with pots of jam and pork-pies, apples, nuts, sausages, and other delicacies dear to the youthful palate. That poor woman dressed in black stuff of some sort, worn to exceeding glossiness, walking from the railway between a couple of hungry-looking girls, has surely done them and herself injustice by saving a few shillings to gratify the taste of Tom - on board of the Arethusa - who is certainly the best fed, best clothed, and best-cared-for member of his family. Master Tom has his solid half-pound of meat to his dinner, with store of potatoes and "soft tack " - they bake a sack of flour of the sort called "middlings" into bread every day on the Arethusa. He also has a good solid breakfast and tea, and, as compared with his wizened little sisters, is a fine specimen of humanity. But to them he appears in some sort as a hero, working out his passage to a still higher state, and deserving of sympathy during his period of probation. It is true that Tom's life, on a training-ship, appears to wealthy visitors to be an eminently happy one. He is fed, clothed, taught the "three R's," and a trade, and when far enough advanced, is provided with employment; but his fond mother and loving sisters look not so much upon what Tom has, as upon what he has not. The delights of lounging about the streets, and ringing bells; of playing tipcat, to the terror of passers-by; of converting the pavement in cold weather into a gigantic slide, to the peril of the unwary; of laying orange-peel on flights of steps, and watching the effect upon hurried pedestrians; of smoking, drinking, and swearing; in short, all the sweet consolations of a vagabond life, are lost to Tom, it is hoped, for ever; but his kith and kin, glad enough though they are to see him provided for, yet view him a little in the light of a martyr, to whom the joys of the gutter are taboo.
    After the first kissing and hugging are over, mother and sisters "look over" Tom in a curious way. They think he has grown during the last three months, and, after subjecting him to a minute inspection, declare themselves satisfied. Then the baskets and bundles are opened; the cakes and pots of jam, the lusciously-browned sausages, which have burst from excess of richness, the oranges and the nuts, are drawn forth. While the family endearments are going on, not every face on board of the Arethusa wears a blithe look. Among the two hundred youngsters are not a few - nay, a great many - who have nobody "belonging to them." These sorrowful ones look wistfully at the happy boys who have friends, and would like to know "how it feels" to have a mother's hand resting gently on their heads, or a sister's arm clasped round their necks. Delights like these are denied to the lonely Arethusans; but when sentiment is satisfied, and the healthy desire of youth, even when its emotions are most profound, for seed-cake and raspberry jam is made manifest, the boys with friends make the forlorn ones happy by inviting them to join their family circle. The orphan boys immediately become objects of interest to the matrons, who lavish jam and sympathy upon them till the requirements of both stomach and heart are amply filled. The Arethusa becomes the scene of a picnic till - sundown, when the decks are cleared and the routine of life on board is resumed.
    This discipline, which is maintained without any especial display of severity, appears remarkable when we consider who and what the boys on the training-ship are; whence, and from what company, they came hither. The raw material is first collected at the Refuge in Great Queen-street, Lincoln's-inn-fields. From noisome alleys and foul garrets, from narrow courts reeking with moral and physical contamination, from filthy cellars dripping with slime and coated with the accumulated dirt of several lifetimes, from ash-heaps and dry arches, doorsteps and hedges, the waifs and strays of poor human nature drift to Great Queen-street. They come in all shapes - not unfrequently in that sorrowful one of respectability utterly starved out and desperate, without roof or shelter, or bread to eat. Death, to those which I may style the comfortable classes, is an awful visitor, but people "above the world" can form but a slight idea of the fearful proportions he assumes when striking down the breadwinner who, on perhaps thirty or thirty-flve shillings a week, has contrived to keep his wife and half-dozen of children decently. There is no insincerity about the grief at a funeral provided at the expense of the parish. There is a dreadful reality about it. The one prop of the tent is gone, and starvation sits grinning at the head of his coffin. Perhaps the eldest son or daughter is earning a little money, but what is that among so many little ones? This class of claimant is welcomed at the Refuge, and valued on board ship, for a reason presently to be set forth. He is perhaps able to read and write a little, and, at any rate, has some idea of religion and cleanliness.  It is pleasant work to train him; but what of the next comer? He is lying outside on the step, waiting to be admitted. He and the gutter are much of a tint. The hue - the very material of the wretched rags which expose rather than cover his bony and grimy limbs - has been lost, or rather merged, in a general dirt colour. The matted locks, among which his claw-like fingers are busy, are knotted and clotted together with filth. And what a face peers, half-shyly, half-sulkily, and whole-hungrily from the top of that unsavoury heap lying at the door! The creature is a boy, but its face is old and haggard, with a strange look of cunning in the eyes, which rove incessantly from object to object, like those of a beast of prey. A sharp chin and lantern-jaws help to carry out the resemblance to a wild animal. He has tried many tricks, our unpromising friend, before coming, fairly starved out, to fling himself on the doorstep of the Refuge. The half-wild but wholly corrupt young creature, who is perhaps - for he does not know - fourteen years old, has no legal guardians extant. No father or mother? "No, nor aunt, nor uncles, nor nuffin." Letter or line knows he never a one; nor the name of God, save to blaspheme. A hard case to work upon, - but not beyond the scope of the Refuge founded by Lord Shaftesbury. The great chiffonnier's basket in Queen-street was established to hold such rags of humanity as this. All are received - all Filth and ignorance, even crime, do not disqualify a candidate for admission to an institution which asks simply if he is "destitute." This is all the qualification required-to be absolutely poor and wretched.
    Pending the purification of his mind, our young gutter-snipe must undergo a tremendous bodily cleansing. There is no little hair-cutting and scrubbing done at the Refuge, where, before a boy is sent afloat, the meaning of cleanliness is made clear to him - not by perpetual preaching and worry, but by the care taken, in the first instance, to make him clean, and then to keep him so. Here, already, at the Refuge, he is made to feel the weight of the most powerful engine of discipline wielded by the wise and merciful rulers of the entire institution. This is public opinion. On board the ship herself this instrument almost supplies the wants of the officers, and in a smaller degree, of course, is felt among the newly-caught boys in Queen-street. But even there it exercises remarkable power. The last arrival finds himself among a large number of boys, the majority of whom have already been taught the elements of cleanliness and order, and he no more dare act or talk filthily than he dare jump out of the window. In the early days of the Chichester, the boys played a hundred pranks, and stole right and left; but in time these instincts were repressed, and a healthy public opinion established. There is now little trouble with them at the Refuge, and less on board ship. The establishment in Queen-street is very neatly kept, the whole of the housework being performed by the boys themselves. Mrs. Carr, the matron, tells me that she has only one servant, the boys having developed great talent for housework, which they regard as good fun. Housework over, floors scoured, beds made, and the cooking squad set to work, the day is equally divided between school and workshop - three hours to reading, writing, and arithmetic, and three hours to basket-making, tailoring, or shoe-making. It is pleasant to watch the younger boys making "punnets," as they are called in Covent-garden. The bigger ones split the wood into the strips required, and then the little fellows plait the circular pieces which form the groundwork of the "punnet," bent up and shaped afterwards round a block. They also take kindly to tailoring and shoemaking. They make all the clothes worn by the four hundred on board of the two training-ships, as well as the large quantities wanted for the Refuge itself. And they appear to enjoy this part of the day's work far more than the school hours - a period, to the genuine street boy, of unmitigated agony.
    From the Refuge, the boys who like the sea are drafted on to ships at Greenhithe. Formerly it was considered inexpedient to extend the benefits of the institution for longer than one year to each person, but this period has recently been doubled, as it was found difficult to obtain employment at sea for boys under fourteen or fifteen years of age. In the two years during which the boys are taken care of they are not only taught cleanliness, godliness, and spelling, but are put through a course of practical seamanship. A few months make a great alteration in their appearance. It is marvellous to those who love to talk of facial angles, high and low types, and the rest of it, to mark the singular change which comes over the starved savage of our streets, with a few months of good food and proper care. The hollow, cunning eyes put on a brighter and franker look, the shifty "round-the-corner" glance having died out, under circumstances which do not require the "tail of the eye" to be always on the look-out for a policeman. The cheekbones no longer project so far beyond the sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. The pointed chin, which once gave a peculiarly "gallows" finish to the whole physiognomy, has disappeared under a generous diet of beef and pudding. It would be absurd to claim for the boys of the Arethusa and Chichester a pre-eminence for beauty over those of other seminaries, but in simple fairness they must be classed a "good average lot." As might be expected, a low receding forehead, or a flat-topped cranium, may be found here and there, but the proportion of disquieting heads  is not very great. Perhaps the chubby, bullet-headed, "cob-like" boy may be taken as the prevailing type of the Arethusan, but there are not wanting among them the lads with as fine and clear-cut features as could be found at any one of our great public schools.
    On regular working-days the boys begin early, for there is much holy-stoning and cleaning of all kinds to be done before breakfast. This meal and prayers over, the boys fall into their several classes and divisions, each under a competent instructor. Seamanship is a pretty comprehensive term, including nearly all the arts of construction. Several smart lads are taking a lesson in "pulling;" and very well they pull together. Others are engaged in a compass class; others again are hard at work, trying to comprehend the use of the lights, which at night enable seamen to observe the rule of the road. Splicing, bending, and knotting are indispensable parts of a seaman's education, and are, it is almost needless to say, very popular among the boys. Sail-making is another study attentively pursued on board of the Arethusa. It is almost unnecessary to mention that the boys are regularly instructed in the various kinds of drill practised on board of her Majesty's ships, and taught to man the yards and perform other duties aloft in shipshape style. The main difficulty experienced by those admirable officers, Captain Walter of the Arethusa, and Captain Boxer of the Chichester, is not to get their boys aloft, but to get them down again. The masts and yards. present an invincible attraction, and the tendency to overrate strength and activity is so great, that nets are carefully spread to catch the over venturesome. Mistakes as to distance and miscalculations of strength, rare among the older boys, are common among the recent arrivals, who have not had sufficient time to recover from - the effect of months, or perhaps years, of exposure and starvation. At flood-tide there is bathing in a great floating-bath; there are also cooking squads to be told off; there are lamps to be trimmed and brass-work to be polished; and a few boys whose "good conduct" status is very high indeed, are allowed to assist the baker and the carpenter. At dinner-time the boys find the number of their mess easily enough, and, after grace, fall on to an excellent meal - mainly of fresh meat, vegetables, and bread, but varied on two days a week with regular sailors' fare. Thus, on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, dinner is composed of roast or baked fresh meat, vegetables and bread; Wednesday and Friday are sea-pie days; and on Tuesday and Thursday the good old legitimate pea-soup and salt pork are served up. After dinner a canvas screen is suspended between the upper decks, and a portion of the space is thus cut off for a school-room. Then the minds, which have been pleasantly exercised during the morning in grappling with the mysteries of tackle - the various "hitches" and "bends" with which mariners are acquainted  - are now turned to the more tedious tasks imposed by the schoolmaster, whose task is by no means lightened by the very miscellaneous character of his pupils. A few are not ill-taught; others know very little; but from forty to fifty per cent. can neither read nor write. Very little knowledge of human nature will tell us that the schoolmaster's berth is not the easiest in the ship. The mind of a boy of fourteen, trained only in the hard school of the streets, has developed thoroughly only one faculty - vigilance - the peculiar property of the savage. Hence, if he is told to look out and steer this way or that way, or to make a knot in a peculiar fashion, he does fairly well, for his perceptive powers are called into action, and there is the boat, or the piece of rope, before him. Above all, there is something to be done. But when memory and reflection are required, the vigilant young savage is at a loss. In arithmetic, more especially, is this truth made manifest. It would seem easier to teach many of these boys to make a desk than to add up the cost of the materials for it. The field of study, however, is wide enough to give every boy a chance of passing in several of the nineteen subjects set before him. A record of the actual status of every student is kept upon a " progress board," ruled and divided into hollow squares, each of which is filled up with a cube as he passes in that particular subject. Thus the new chum sees on the "progress board" nineteen hollow spaces, and knows that the sooner he can fill up a proper proportion of them the sooner will he be "passed ready for sea." It is not pretended, that a couple of years on board of the Arethusa will make a London street-boy into an able seaman; but this much is certain, that the agents at the docks, who are entrusted with the care of  finding ships for the youngsters, experience no great difficulty in placing them. It has, by degrees, oozed out that the boys from the training-ships are far smarter and better "in hand" than chance comers, and captains are, therefore, glad to have them. While at the docks awaiting employment, they are housed and taken care of by the agent, to the end that they may be shipped, without meeting any opportunity of relapsing into vagrant habits. The return of certificates made up to the end of August, now hanging up on board the Chichester, proclaims the success with which good conduct can be taught to those who, many of them, had never quite understood what it was. The certificates are granted by the boys' masters at the close of a voyage, and indicate their "ability" and "conduct" thus:

Very good.  Good Preferred , making no return. 
Ability 1,769 164  33 
Conduct 1,800 139 27

It is pleasant to contemplate such a record as this, and still more pleasant to meet the old Arethusans and old Chichesters, when they return from a voyage to pay a visit to their old commander. Not a little proud, either, are they of the money they bring home to their mothers, if they have any.
    Judging from "mammy day" and other days, the boys, during their training, do not feel any lack of amusement. For those of an active body there is plenty of rowing, going aloft, and swimming, together with a walk or a game of cricket ashore now and then; while for those of a studious turn of mind, there is reading enough, and to spare. From a well-selected library of amusing as well as serious books, batches of literature are served out to the various messes, to the end that the boys may always have access to reading of some kind. Besides reading and school-teaching, there are lectures on various subjects, readings from the poets, and so forth, organised in the lecture-theatre, down deep in the ship. When lighted up by oil-lamps, the spacious room looks bright and pleasant enough, and the audience is sure to prove appreciative. The drama has its votaries too, and sundry enterprising boys give little performances of their own. The pieces presented are of a sensational character, and are partly new and "original" works and partly " adaptations" from plays witnessed by the boys, while they were yet running loose upon town; or during the short holidays occasionally allowed to those whose behaviour has been especially good. Judged by these curious performances, the boyish mind is singularly unretentive of the softer dramatic episodes, but clings fondly to the startling and the horrible. In one of the Chichester dramas figure a villain, a thief, two detectives - one Welsh - and a phantom. Any depression, occasioned by the mournful nature of the story, is supposed to be relieved by clog- dancing and singing between the acts. Singing is much encouraged by the schoolmaster of the Arethusa, whose boys lift up their voices with a will when he sits down to the harmonium, and accompanies them in The Sailor's Evening Hymn, The Sea is England's Glory, and A Fire Brigade Chorus. Just as the latter melody comes to an end, there is wild clanging on the ship's bell; and the singers spring to their feet and fly in every direction. Up and down they rush, and presently, in less than a minute and a half, water is pouring out of the hose, and boys are scampering in and around with fire-annihilators. The sharp strokes on the bell called the boys to fire-quarters- a duty in which they are frequently exercised, in the hope that the sister ships at Greenhithe may, in the event of mishap, escape the fate of the old Warspite and the Goliath.

All the Year Round, 1876

Training Ship Arethusa, 1875 [ILN Picture Library]

"Arethusa" and "Chichester," Office, 25, Great Queen-street, W.C. Two retired men-of-war, moored off Greenhithe; are lent by the Government to the Committee of the National Refuges for homeless and destitute children, the President of which is the Earl of Shaftesbury. The Chichester was opened in 1866, and the Arethusa in 1874. The two ships are fitted to accommodate together 400 boys, who are entered from fourteen to seventeen years of age, and to train them for a sea life either in the Royal Navy or merchant service. The ships are entirely supported by voluntary contributions, and a visit to either of them will afford ample proof that the funds are administered carefully, and with eminently satisfactory results.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

"Cornwall." - This reformatory training-ship of the School Ship Society is anchored off Purfleet. As a general rule the committee do not admit boys unless the three following conditions are satisfied:
    1. That the boy be sentenced to not less than three years' detention.
    2. That he be not less than 13 years of age nor more than than 15.
    3. That he be certified as sound and healthy.
    The comparative cost per head on ordinary maintenance and management is £23 5s. 8d. Funds are urgently needed, as "the amounts received on account of the Treasury allowance and the county and borough rates do little more than suffice for the maintenance of the boys and for the payments of the officers." Visitors are requested not to go on Saturday, which in cleaning day on board. The Cornwall was once the Wellesley, and was built in Bombay of teak in 1813.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

Exmouth Training Ship.  Grays Thurrock (Office, 37, Norfolk-street, W.C.). -On the destruction by fire, in December 1875, of the Goliath training ship, which had been founded and carried on by three out of the thirty London Unions for about six years, the managers of the metropolitan Asylum Board, at the request of the Local Government Board, undertook to provide and manage a training-ship, in the advantages of which the whole of the metropolitan unions and parishes were to be entitled to participate, and towards the expenses of which all now contribute according to their rateable value. The object of the ship, which provides accommodation for 600 lads, is to take healthy and otherwise suitable boys from the Metropolitan Poor Law schools, educate them, and train them for service in either the Royal Navy or mercantile marine. The course of training adopted may be summarised as follows: Ordinary school work up to the 4th standard of the education code; seamanship in all its branches, including navigation; swimming; large gun, small arm, and cutlass drill; and instrumental music. In addition there is the industrial work of ship carpentry, painting, tailoring, cooking, and washing. During the summer months the boys in the advanced seamanship classes have an opportunity of putting to practical use the knowledge they have gained, by cruising for several days together in the ship's tender (a brigantine of 100 tons) to the North Foreland and Mouse Light in all kinds of weather. From the establishment of this ship in March, 1876, to Michaelmas 1880, 1,288 lads have been admitted to training. Three of these have died, 434 have been provided with situations as sailors (27 in the Royal Navy and 3 on board yachts), 73 joined army bands, and 187 were returned to their friends or unions. The cost of maintenance and clothing of the boys has been 1s. per head per day.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

Thames Nautical Training College, Training-ship, - Worcester, off Greenhithe, and Office, 72, Mark-lane.- Object to provide properly qualified officers for merchant vessels by training cadets for a seafaring life, under an able commander and schoolmaster, with efficient subordinate officers. They are exercised in all the duties of a first-class ship; are taught practical seamanship, such as knotting, splicing, reefing, furling, heaving the lead, management of boats, swimming, &c.; also navigation and nautical astronomy. They are practised in gunnery, and so prepared that, after practical experience at sea, they may become thorough masters of their profession. The annual terms of admission in the upper school for cadets from thirteen to sixteen years of age are £52 10s., and in the lower school for cadets from eleven to thirteen years of age, £47 5s., payable in advance, with a charge to each of £10 10s. per annum for uniform, medical attendance, washing, and use of school books and stationery. Youths only who are intended for the sea are entered on board the training college. Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen has been pleased to grant for competition by the cadets of the Worcester, two prizes: A gold medal to be annually awarded to the boy who shows the qualities likely to make the finest sailor; these consist of cheerful submission to superiors, self-respect and independence of character, kindness and protection to the weak, readiness to forgive offence, desire to conciliate the differences of others, and above all fearless devotion to duty and unflinching truthfulness; and a handsome binocular glass with suitable inscription, and a sum of £35 towards the expenses of the outfit of the boy obtaining a naval cadetship, when such may be granted by the Lords of the Admiralty. The Secretary of State for India in Council has notified his willingness to appoint annually a limited number of Worcester cadets as Leadsmen Apprentices in the Hooghly Pilot Service, the number of nominations from the Worcester for year 1877 was four, in 1878 two, but in future years it is not likely that more than two or three will be allotted, and it must be understood that no pledge is given beforehand to appoint any definite number in any future year. The selection of cadets to be recommended to the Secretary of State will be made by the committee of the Worcester, and those selected proceeded to Calcutta in the month of September. The Lords of the Admiralty have been pleased to present annually to the Worcester cadets six commissions as midshipmen in the Royal Naval Reserve. The Board of Trade allows two years passed on board the Worcester to count as one year sea service. Thus, a cadet having been two years on board the Worcester, can pass an examination as second officer after three years' service at sea. Particular attention is called to the advantage of cadets remaining the two years on board to obtain the "Worcester Board of Trade Certificate." This, however, is not granted to those leaving under fifteen years of age. The Elder Brethren of the Trinity House grant annually the sum of £21 to be distributed in prizes to the Worcester cadets. The Meteorological Committee of the Royal Society annually grant a prize for proficiency in meteorology.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881