Children at Sea (Paperback)
Lives Shaped by the Waves
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Children at sea faced even more drastic separations from loved ones than those sent 'home' from India or those packed off to English boarding schools at the age of seven, the subjects of Vyvyen Brendon’s previous books. Captured slaves, child migrants and transported convicts faced an ocean passage leading nearly always to life-long exile in distant lands. Boys apprenticed as merchant seamen, or enlisted as powder monkeys, or signed on as midshipmen, usually progressed to a nautical career fraught with danger and broken only by fleeting periods of home leave. “Solitary among numbers”, as Admiral Collingwood described himself, they could be not just physically at risk but psychologically adrift – at sea in more ways than one.
Rather than abandoning seaborne children as they approached adulthood, therefore, Vyvyen follows whole lives shaped by the waves. She focusses on eight central characters: a slave captured in Africa, a convict girl transported to Australia, a Barnardo’s lass sent as a migrant to Canada, a foundling brought up in Coram’s Hospital who ran away to sea, and four youths from contrasting backgrounds despatched to serve as midshipmen. Their social origins as well as their maritime ventures are revealed through a rich variety of original source material discovered in scattered archives.
These brine-encrusted lives are resurrected both for their intrinsic interest and because they speak for thousands of children, cast off alone to face storms and calms, excitement and monotony, fellowship and loneliness, kindness and abuse, sea-sickness and ozone breezes, loss and hope. This book recounts stories never before told, stories that might otherwise have sunk without trace like so much juvenile flotsam. They are sometimes inspiring, sometimes heart-rending and always compelling. Children at Sea embarks on a fresh voyage and explores a world of new experience.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Fran Eichenauer
"Children at Sea: Lives Shaped By the Waves" by Vyvyen Brendon is a highly detailed and thoroughly researched tome documenting and following the lives of eight children shaped by their sea journeys. A history lovers delight!
We can never forget the distressing photograph of 3 year old boy Alan Kurdi washed up as a child refugee from Syria from the Mediterranean Sea only as recently as 2015 alongside the other 90,000 lone child refugees that travelled that year from Asia or Africa. Many more have braved the seas since.NetGalley, Philipa Coughlan
In this book we note the historic tragedies (amongst some celebrations) of how children (many less than 10 years of age) found themselves at the mercy of the ocean's elements, abandoned, transported, sold but rarely accompanied by loving parents on huge ships to the other side of the world.
The author has done some thorough research and it is justified in filling in the missing years of so many of these children. There are 8 separate stories but often they include other siblings from the same family giving an even wider and often distressing overview of how the innocence of childhood was destroyed early on.
"without a grave, unknell'd, uncoffin'd and unknown" wrote Byron of those young children who never even made shore - bodies often that floated to the deep secrecy of the seas not even exposed and recorded like poor Alan Kurdi.
Charles Dickens spoke and wrote often of childhood, its innocence, turmoil and many times of its rescue. However as as father Dickens himself was terrible. He said he was "more partial to girls" and although not in a sexual manner his worrying obsession with two of his wife's younger sisters and of course his later affair with an actress meant he very early on decided his sons should be sent abroad. We hear of Sydney - once feted by his father- but then rejected and sent to sea who always trying to seek reassurance spent unwisely, acted badly and then died a tragic early death. He along with William Barlow, whose father was an employee of the East India Company were not born as paupers, seeking the sea to escape terrible lives and penury, found in wealth, power and influence families who rejected them to the mercy of the waves in a manner that was even more abusive.
Slavery is topical today as we digest the past history of places like Bristol and the trade in people from Africa to support the rich white ship and plantation owners. It was interesting to read how Joseph Emidy (much like Solomon Northup of 12 Years A Slave) used his musical skill to try and ensure he had a sort of respectable and safe life beyond the manacles of forced labour.
Overall a fascinating and well written factual book. I remember meeting Margaret Humphreys who set up the Child Migrant Trust in 1987 whilst working for her MP as she even now grapples with the lives of child migrants sent by this country to Australia post WWII, whose lives were torn from their families and whose mental health has forever never been washed away by the mass expanse of water that divided them from their real mothers or fathers.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Tammy Buchli
Well written, well cited, fascinating and heart-breaking book. I confess I had a favorite subject -- given my affection for teenage boys and sailors, I admit to a real soft spot for Chapter 3's George King. But all the stories were wonderful. This book is highly recommended!