captain's servant

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The name that used to be given to boys entering the Royal Navy at about the age of 12, before they became midshipmen. The custom of allowing post-captains to take such ‘servants’ into their ships derived from the older apprenticeship system. Such servants or followers did no menial work since they were aspiring officers. They were accommodated in the gunroom under the general supervision of the gunner before graduating to the midshipmen's mess in the cockpit, and thence on promotion to the lieutenants' wardroom. The name was changed in 1796 to volunteer, first class, boys of the second and third classes not aspiring to the rank of commissioned officers. Unlike King's Letter boys, who were nominated by the Admiralty, a captain's servant was a personal follower of a post-captain, taken on board to oblige relatives or friends. Nelson and most officers of his day joined the navy in this way. See also ‘born with a silver spoon’.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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