Future Nelsons: A quantitative social history study of British naval cadets, 1884-1894
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This dissertation is a quantitative study of naval cadets who joined the Royal Navy in the final two decades of the nineteenth century via the training institution H.M.S. Britannia (Training Ship). The focus of the study is on the backgrounds of cadets, geographical and social, and how they impacted career progression.
The individuals of this study group would join the navy during a time of rapid change followed by a significant increase in recruitment of officers and men after the Naval Defence Act (1889). The importance of the navy and its future leaders was of significant interest to the navy, the British government and the public. Several reviews of the educational provision were undertaken, and a specific type of naval officer recruitment was identified, one from a high social class. The reality of the naval officer corps was a lot more diverse than the rhetoric espoused by naval leadership and intellectuals. Dominated by sons from the professional classes, this dissertation provides new insight that shows social background had little value to an officer as their career progressed.
Quantitative analysis of naval service officer records, documents related to the cadet’s education at Britannia and biographical records has created a database of over 1,000 cadets to produce a broad experience. Contemporary literature, newspapers, letters, memoirs, and government reports have provided the qualitative elements of the study to provide the voice of officers not readily studied within naval history.
This dissertation brings new insight to the social history of naval officers from the late Victorian era to the early Edwardian era; the diversity of the naval officer corps, particularly its changing global make-up which sheds a new light on British expansionism; the consistency of the navy in its training and promotion of officers, and the success of Britannia as an educational institution.