Founded in London in 1756 by Jonas Hanway (1712–86), a governor of the Foundling Hospital and a commissioner of the Victualling Board. He started the society to save destitute boys from the streets of London and to help man the British Navy with them at the start of the Seven Years War (1756–63), and it is now the oldest public maritime charity in the world. Boys from this source were appreciated by naval captains of the time as they compared favourably with the men brought in by impressment. In 1772 the society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament to clothe and equip all seafarers and from 1786 it provided pre-sea education and training in a succession of training ships moored on the Thames River. By 1940, when the last of these had been paid off, over 110,000 men had been recruited, equipped, and trained for both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. After the Second World War (1939–45) the society concentrated on providing financial and material support for young people embarking on careers at sea, and on supporting other maritime youth organizations. Today, it continues to promote careers at sea with scholarships and loans, and through giving over 600 young people a year a taste of life at sea in its training ship, the 150-tonne Earl of Romney. It also provides seafarers with recreational and educational reading while at sea, and during 2002 over 375 ships and marine installations worldwide were supplied with libraries that are regularly updated.
Subjects: Maritime History.