‘Schoolies’: Teachers of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines 1700-1914

Glenn M Stein, FRGS, Florida, USA

These writings were spawned from the desire to assemble a roll of officially named medals to schoolies, representing actions and campaigns from 1793-1914. In due course, the conflicting and confusing information often encountered about the evolution of the ranks/rates and roles of maritime teachers challenged me to create an accompanying historical overview. Due to the dearth of knowledge, serious gaps still exist in respect of the Royal Marines and Royal Marine Artillery.

At this point, it is convenient to mention the Indian Navy, Bombay Marine and Bengal Marine. Since only the barest threads have come to light concerning schoolies in these organisations, the assumption is they evolved along the same lines as their Royal Navy counterparts. In 1841 the rank of ‘schoolmaster’ was in existence in the Indian Navy, with a per diem on a par with a lieutenant (three rupees). At the time of the service’s abolition in 1863, the monthly pay of a naval instructor was equal to that of a lieutenant commanding a vessel entitled to a commander (500 rupees). Seamen’s schoolmasters were 1st class petty officers and received 33 rupees per month.

Royal Navy midshipman 1812
by Bryan Fosten (after Dighton)

On a grammatical note, I took exception to the poor grammar concerning one particular schoolie found in some references, on medal rolls and medals – the seamen’s schoolmaster. This rating’s responsibilities encompassed several individuals on board ship, but the title often encountered is ‘seaman’s schoolmaster’. In spite of temptation, where this objectionable form has appeared on rolls and medals, I have transcribed it without correction while constructing the medal roll which will be printed as Part II of this article.

Dating back to the beginning of the 18th century, schoolies are found in the abundant pages of British naval history. ‘There are numerous instances of schoolmasters serving over periods of more than ten years, and no fewer than ten individuals served over periods exceeding twenty years’. One schoolie, John Everest, was before the mast in 12 ships from 17 April 1797 until 1 July 1823, and survived to receive the Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840 (NGS) with clasp ‘CAMPERDOWN’.

Their Lordships did not introduce education out of benevolence, but to a specific end: on-the-job training for future naval officers, with the aim of improving the standard of navigation in the service. These future officers came in two forms – captain’s servant and volunteer per order. The progression of these two ratings became complex, and will be dealt with here in only a limited manner.

A captain’s servant was appointed by the captain and was often the son of a relation or friend. The rate was abolished in 1794 and replaced with three specific ‘boy’ ratings:

Boy 1st class, called ‘volunteers’ (future officers)
Boy 2nd class (future seamen, aged 15-17)
Boy 3rd class (future seamen, aged 13-15, also acting as domestics)

A volunteer per order (also known as King’s Letter Boy) was introduced by regulations of 1676 and existed until 1729, the aim being to obtain suitable candidates for ‘the art and practice of navigation in order to the fitting them for further employment in our service’ . He was armed with a letter from the king, which ordered a ship’s commander to take the young man aboard and train in him in the same manner as a captain’s servant. The volunteer per order was to be not older than 16 years of age and be paid an annual salary of £24.

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