Monday, March 10, 2014

Military Monday: Training Ships Exmouth and Goliath--for Poor Boys

Why did the three London-born Slatter brothers (John, Albert, and Henry) serve together on the Training Ship Goliath, and then the Training Ship Exmouth, starting as preteens

The answer, after a bit of research, seems to be that the Slatter family was poor. They lived in London's Whitechapel area, which is part of the Forest Gate School District. According to the Poor Law Act, boys from Forest Gate could be sent to the Goliath (and her successor, the Exmouth) to be prepared for military careers. In addition to learning to swim, tie knots, and shoot rifles, the boys were involved in band activities.

In the late 1800s, the Royal Navy had an "ever-increasing demand for seamen," according to Poor Law Conferences, 1903-4, and--no small consideration--boys who were trained on these ships and joined any branch of the military would eventually earn pensions. Later in life, they would not become financial burdens for the authorities to support. Meanwhile, as they matured, the boys graduated from the training ships and added to the ranks of the Royal Navy, or the British Army, or the Mercantile Marine.

The Goliath, the first training ship where the Slatter brothers served, was anchored in the Thames near Essex. It suffered a terrible fire on December 22, 1875, with more than a dozen boys losing their lives. All three Slatter brothers were subsequently moved to the Exmouth, another training ship. A lengthy article in the Strand magazine from 1899 describes life on board the Exmouth and includes the above photo of a musical drill. A slightly different perspective, from Workhouses.org, suggests the boys' lives on Exmouth and Goliath could be quite harsh.

The Slatter brothers must have had some latent musical talent, since all became accomplished musicians and later emigrated to Canada and served as military bandmasters.

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